5 star luxury

5 star luxury

Overlooking Lake Louise is the 552 room Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. A vast, luxurious and welcoming hotel.

Originally just a wooden chalet in 1890, the hotel was gradually developed at the turn of the 20th century by the Canadian Pacific Railway to lure wealthy travellers to head west by train. The famous soon came, and the Rockies were opened up to climbing and trekking.

Our gap year budget obviously doesn’t stretch to rooms starting at 439 Canadian dollars (about £265). But for some unexplained reason our cheap lodge down the road had an obscure arrangement with the Fairmont allowing us to use their swimming pool and spa. We felt like the deserving poor, but it was good to get some swimming time in beautiful surroundings.

Afterwards we sat in the bar and ordered the two cheapest drinks on the menu.

Lake Louise

Lake Louise

Named after Queen Victoria’s daughter, Lake Louise is a stunning sight within Banff National Park. Mount Victoria (3,469m) with its glacier, provides the backdrop at the lake’s end.

It would be a wonderful place to go hiking in the summer, but right now the lake is frozen and most of the trails closed.

But we were able to walk 3km round the edge. 95% of the visitors don’t get beyond the first half km, so the rest of the route was one of total silence (as only thick snow can provide) and, with the sun now out, superb views.

We trekked as far as a waterfall – frozen in its journey down the rock cliff; some brave souls actually do ice climbing up this. Beyond here there is a danger of avalanches so we turned back.

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Trekking by the lakes

Trekking by the lakes

Just outside Banff we trekked around Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake. Both picture perfect framed by wonderful silence.

Neither of us have walked in such a huge snowy landscape. The scale of the scenery and it’s complete lack of human footprint, set this landscape apart from Europe.

It’s good to be here pre-season. There’s a few RVs in the car park and a couple of Chinese tour groups, but that’s it.

We asked about bears. Yes – there are lots of Grizzly Bears and Yes – they have come out of hibernation by late April. We were advised to talk loudly as we walked and buy some bear spray.

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Good to see a Canada Goose in Canada

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Into the Rockies

Into the Rockies

We drove west on Highway 1, but didn’t get very far.

By the time we reached charming Canmore it was snowing hard. With low mist and hardly any mountains in view, there was little point heading further up the valley to Jasper.

Until the views get clearer, we’ll settle down for some well earned rest-time and do a few “winter” wonderland treks.

It’s the third time on this gap year we’ve walked on snow (the others were Mounts Etna and Cotopaxi) and what a contrast to the hot (38+ degrees) beaches of Costa Rica or the cities of Texas. As our travels approach six months, we are appreciating the importance of diverse and ever-changing experiences.

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The Main Street in Canmore. Full of touristy shops and cafés; hard to believe this was one of Canada’s largest mining centres
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Elks along the banks of the River Bow just outside Canmore
Very cold Calgary

Very cold Calgary

The palest couple in Chile back in January are now the brownest people in Calgary, Canada.

It’s like we have gone from summer to winter. It’s 6 degrees and the parks are only just emerging from thick snow cover. Maybe we should have planned to arrive here a few weeks later!

At least the sun came out so we enjoyed walking along the Bow River pathways. There is a European feel here. More walking, less cars. But the crash in oil prices, is creating uncertainty in the Dubai-like skyscraper boom.

The highlight of the day was catching up with Shane and Natalia who we got to know five weeks back in the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin. Great couple.

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Natalia manages marketing and customer service at Vendome – a lovely neighbourhood café. Shane is a professional photographer. Together they are the creative pair behind @themobiledarkroom on instagram
Thoughts on the US southern states

Thoughts on the US southern states

Over the last 2 weeks we’ve experienced life on the road in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Here are some observations:

  • The people are very friendly and helpful
  • The many Trump supporters we met were nice people – we expected to meet horror show characters
  • There are churches everywhere; many big, brash and very lavish
  • Driving and parking in cities is very easy. We saw no road rage in 2,500 miles of driving
  • The countryside is beautiful; much of it unspoilt apart from advertising along the Interstates
  • Staying in motels is a bit of a lucky dip
  • We saw no open carry guns, except the police of course
  • April is the perfect time to go before it gets too hot
  • We were often the only people walking in a town
  • There is patriotism everywhere – large flags line the roads

And here are images not yet shown on this blog…..

L – Roger being silly in Vicksburg R – Hilary at the Mississippi

L – With Caroline and Will in Houston  R – Watching the rodeo in Fort Worth

L – Field outside town of Stotesbury R – Natchez Trace Pathway

We will return to the States in a few weeks, but first we are off to Western Canada.

Fort Worth – where the West begins

Fort Worth – where the West begins

Fort Wort became famous during the great open-range cattle drives of the 19th century, when more than 10 million Texas Longhorn cattle trampled through the city on the Chisholm Trail. With horns up to 2m long, the breed descended from cattle brought over by Christopher Columbus and have a high drought-stress tolerance.

The Stockyards in Fort Worth are where the action is today. Cowboys walk around in boots and almost everyone wears ‘stetsons’. There’s a Cowboy Hall of Fame Museum, original cattle pens where you get to see some of the Texan Longhorns and the rodeo in the evening.

At this we saw some wonderful cowboy skills: calf roping, barrel racing and bronco bull riding which was seriously dangerous for the cowboys. None stayed on for the full 8 seconds and several were seen limping off with what looked like broken limbs. We wondered why they do it, then learnt the top earner gets $2m income pa.

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Hilary rode a Texas Longhorn Bull – which looks a bit like a Milton Keynes (a town in England) concrete cow in this photo, but honestly it was alive and very sweet natured.
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The evening rodeo was staged in the historic Coliseum. It was a fun, family oriented event – mix of rodeo skills and children chasing animals around the arena. And an emotional parade of the Stars and Stripes.
JFK killing – still a mystery?

JFK killing – still a mystery?

There are two X’s on Elm Street, Dallas. They show where the bullets hit President Kennedy 53 years ago.

What’s less certain is where they were both fired from. The official line is that Lee Harvey Oswald, positioned in the Book Depository at the circled window, was the sole gunman.

IMG_3013Here’s the view from the reverse angle but a floor above. (You can’t take pictures within the excellent and respectful Sixth Floor Museum itself)

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The museum discusses the various theories and it’s hard not to be drawn into all the conflicting evidence: inc Kennedy’s head movement, smoke on the Grassy Knoll, the pristine bullet, Oswald’s marriage break-up. We discussed it at length for the rest of the day. One of us feels there were two shooters. One of us doesn’t.

The scientific evidence is today “conclusive” (there was no second gunman) but still the mystery continues.

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Near the Grassy Knoll, Robert J Groden (seated) makes the case for a two shooter conspiracy – and sells his DVDs
Route 66 kicks

Route 66 kicks

We spent a day driving the historic “Mother Road” through stretches of Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. Not far – maybe 40 miles – as we explored landmarks along the way and enjoyed long chats with many welcoming folk.

“The Main Street of America” was designed to connect the small towns of middle America with Chicago and Los Angeles. With vast numbers of refugees moving west in the 1930s, it was made famous by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath.

Today, the route gets you off the Interstate turning the clock back.

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In Kansas, this is the last of the Marsh Arch Bridges (named after their designer). It was built in 1923, three years before the creation of Route 66. Hope you all spot Roger’s new item of clothing

We’re not car or driving nuts, so it was the people and their buildings we delighted in. For example, in Galena, the Kan-O-Tex gas station has been lovingly restored. Linda told us it was here Pixel got inspiration for their Cars character “Mater”.

In Commerce, Treva and son Charles run the Dairy King in their restored 1927 Marathon station. They love staging weddings here and meeting the thousands of Route 66 Cruisers who stop by each year.

If you plan to do this Be sure to buy upfront the EZ66 guide from Jerry McClanahan. Junction-by-junction it navigates you along the route which today is a string of many different types of roads. We would have got hopelessly lost and missed many of the historic sights without it.

Travel Tips 6 – staying in US motels

Travel Tips 6 – staying in US motels

We’ve spent the last two weeks living out of American motels. With the car parked right outside, they offer the perfect stopover.

The big brands (Super 8, Red Roof) provide consistent rooms – very large bed, fridge, coffee maker and microwave, though their cleanliness is often down to local management. In fact, a few nights we slept in our sheet bags rather than get under their sheets!

They cost anywhere between $50 – $130 depending on location. We found it paid to drive around a bit as those sited in the cities are up to double in price.

What to ask. Does the price include taxes? Is there breakfast? Also, if you are a non-smoker, make sure you get a designated room.

Independent motels are unpredictable. They gave us the best and worst experiences. If it’s below $40, then there’s probably a reason.

Unfortunately it often comes down to who your neighbours are. In the middle of one night, we had to listen to a door being battered down a room away from us and a woman screaming. We should have been brave enough to challenge this, but aware of widespread gun ownership, we didn’t.

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This is one of our occasional tips for middle aged gap year travellers. To see the others, click below on the link – Travel Tips