The story so far - Karen and Stuart have been spirited away by madness to the land of the lumberjack. Trapped at the border with Uncle Sam's land they need to get their transport back to the fairy godmother before it turns into a pumpkin. Will they make it in time and get on board the magic bus for their journey to the sea? Read on to find out.
Happy birthday to you
Just a quick birthday wish for John Sainsbury and Clare Barker - enjoy your days.
2, 4, 6, 8 Motorway
We had to drop the car back off at Calgary airport by midday on Saturday 3 September before heading directly to Vancouver.
It was an uneventful trip heading north on highway 2 across high, flat prairieland and through generic towns with forgettable names. You could spot the next town from miles away. All Canadian towns start with a bewildering array of billboards advertising goods, services and weak tourist attractions. It makes ordinary places look extremely ugly and certainly does not tempt me to stop and shop.
At the airport, the car was checked in (no damage, no additional fees) and we headed into the terminal to await the start of our epic trip across the Rockies and southern British Columbia.
Fly by night
Keeping the car, taking the train or flying would have been preferable but we wanted the experience (and our budget demanded) travelling by Greyhound bus.
Our overnight bus tickets from Calgary to Vancouver had been purchased on our second day in the country. Having visited the bus station then we were not looking forward to spending any time there waiting for the bus to depart at 23.30hrs.
Our original plan was to have a long lunch at the airport and then head somewhere into the city to kill most of the day before having a long dinner and arriving at the bus station close to departure. However, the comfy chairs, free wi fi, selection of coffee shops and other shops persuaded us that we were better off staying at the airport for as long as possible.
The afternoon passed quickly and as we approached the evening we opted to have our evening meal in the cowboy themed sports bar restaurant in departures. Normally we would have just had a main but as the journey would be long and we had not eaten much that day we decided to share a starter platter. Bad mistake - the starter was huge and the main course was the usual very large meal in its own right. As a result we have invoked a new north American food rule - one course only.
"You want busty?" the airport hairdresser said to me. "What?" I said. "You want busty" she repeated. No madam I want a haircut and a short one at that, I thought. Then it suddenly dawned on me, it was not a larger lady hairdresser she was offering. She probably wanted to give me a Bobby Charlton comb over.
"I want to be sheared" I said, "short all over". "Oh, you want grade one?" "Yes, yes" I cried, "I want grade one".
She waved two sets of clippers over my head and after five minutes she stopped, picked up a hairdryer and blew what little remained of the hair on my head (and my dignity with it) away.
Deal done I returned to Karen and she didn't even notice at first.
Greyhound is much cheaper than flying or the train but you do get what you pay for. No café at Calgary, closed café's on the stops and really bad hygiene in the toilets. Note - If the world ever ends from a raging pandemic look no further than the Greyhound gents in Kelowna for the source.
Travelling by Greyhound is great for people watching though. As Karen read her Kindle I watched the backpackers, oil-workers and fellow cheapskates wait for their bus to depart. Some of us wandered around the station, others tried to sleep and the odd person acted oddly.
One particular woman had items in a storage locker that had to be reloaded when the original paid time had expired. Failure to remove items or reload in time would lead to a fine. She knew her time was nearly up and as she talked on one of the pay-phones a light started to flash on a locker. Abandoning the call, she sprinted across the lobby to reload the machine and then tried her key. It did not work because it was not her locker! She resumed her call, bewailing the loss of her two dollars.
The weirdest group consisted of a kid who looked like Otto the bus driver from the Simpsons and his ovoid shaped friend with a very small head. They both wore surfer shorts and t-shirts proclaiming obscure heavy metal bands. They wandered aimlessly from the information desk to the broken vending machines and back again. Eventually a dishevelled old woman joined the duo and a loud conversation began between pinhead and what turned out to be his mother. He was admonishing her for discharging herself from somewhere and travelling by bus to Calgary. One of the Greyhound guys listening to the conversation complained that you aren't allowed to shoot such people anymore. Harsh.
After a laughable security experience - we were searched but our bags were not and anyone could wander past the security desks (two tables) - we boarded just after the allotted time. 15 minutes later we started to leave the city lights behind and headed into the dark.
Being night time we missed most of the good views including Canmore, Banff and the road through Yoho, Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks , Karen couldn't stop laughing at one point as we nearly passed out trying to blow up the type of travel pillows that fit around your neck. We may have looked like two freaky characters from French and Saunders but they were comfortable.
Our second driver (they changed over halfway through the journey) looked like the teacher from South Park, Mr Garrison (okay) but was a friendly, helpful and jolly chap.
We travelled west and then south down the Okanagan before heading west towards Vancouver. The scenery consisted of lakes, rolling pine covered hills and mountains with ever increasing population centres. The towns and villages nestled in good growing valleys and appeared to be very affluent.
Vancouver and its satellite towns spread out over a large distance alongside rivers and lakes. The roads are very busy and are being added to at an amazing rate. This is a growing city consuming large amounts of resources and demanding ever more improvements to its transport system. I was glad I was not driving through here and after the long journey looked forward to arriving.
We set foot on Vancouver soil at around 3.10pm, Pacific Standard Time (8 hours behind the UK). A short taxi journey took us to our hotel.
I had not shaved for days - the one sink in the Pincher Creek motel was our food and cleaning sink so I thought it best not to. By the time I reached the hotel in Vancouver I looked spaced out, beardy and very bald. In my hoody I looked like a fat Moby. I showered, shaved and dressed and we headed out.
The sound of the suburbs
Having criticised them for poor naming conventions in past blogs I have to score one back to the Canadians on one store. They have a burger chain called Fatburger. Brilliant, everything you needed to know about the place in one neat (honest) word.
Our daily routine allows us time to catch-up on TV whilst we get dinner ready. The adverts are very enlightening.
For a nation that walks around with a smile on its face, Canadians seem to have many issues. If you walk around town parks or lakes you will invariably hear female friends talking to each other about very deep issues in psycho-babble clichés. This is reflected in their adverts with one break including an advert for alcoholics anonymous and another for depression (no, it was not selling depression but advertising something to help manage it).
On the channel we were watching the adverts are backed up by the odd infomercial. One in particular is entertaining. A very jolly Dr Ken Nedd has a regular minute slot where he passes on such wisdom as "happy people think happy thoughts so if we think happy we will be happy people".
As for the rest of the advertising breaks they seem to split into misogynistic adverts selling deodorant and very dodgy local store adverts that are worse than the old Pearl and Dean cinema advertising for carpet stores and curry houses "just round the corner from this theatre"
Set the controls for the heart of the sun
It's hot and sunny here and getting hotter. The locals name for the city is "Raincouver" but the rain that normally hits this part of the country is nowhere to be seen and is expected to stay away for at least the next 10 days. So far the weather has been great since we first landed - fingers crossed that it stays that way for the rest of the trip.
Shape of things to come
TV is great for putting the willies up people. The latest news from Vancouver Island is about high forest fire risks, arson, cougar sightings close to towns and death by deer (they run in front of your car!).
We head there this Thursday. I have booked asbestos suits, a shotgun and the biggest RAM pick-up with bull bars that they will allow an idiot foreigner to drive. Sorted.
Wild in the country
Karen will recount our adventures in Vancouver including some unexpected wildlife encounters in the next instalment of "Howard and Hilda do the world".