British Columbia

Canada 2015: Whistler to Quesnel, BC

Sunday morning we grabbed coffee at Starbucks and walked to church, a very long walk, but the hike got our blood pumping on the breezy morning. When the service ended, Theresa and Gordon, a couple from Vancouver Island, asked if we wanted a ride back into town. We accepted their offer and thanked them as they dropped us off in the village.
Famished, we ate lunch at Hot Buns, a cozy café famous for their cinnamon buns, but we ordered crepes—lemon sugar and apple cinnamon.

Go Fest, Whistler’s Great Outdoors Festival, was in full swing, and we spent a good hour touring a car show, snapping photos of vintage vehicles, and another thirty minutes talking to one car owner who had his senior giant schnauzer with him.

We shopped away most of the afternoon, picking up where we had left off the day before, and making some warm purchases—fleece. Afterward, we watched a group of hotshot snowboarders and skiers push the limits before we returned to our hotel for dinner.

We had reservations at the Grill Room. We started with oysters on the half shell; this was followed by Beef Tenderloin Neptune, beef tenderloin topped with Dungeness crab and sauce Charon; and Brome Lake Duck Duo, a pan-roasted duck breast and confit duck leg; and a side order of risotto. We enjoyed dessert in the Fairmont’s Mallard Lounge, sitting before a fire, nibbling a fine selection of sweets from the Chocolate Bar, and sipping a good port.

The next morning we boarded another Rocky Mountaineer train to continue our rail tour of the Canadian Rockies. This leg would take us from Whistler to Quesnel, BC. David had planned the train trip so we could get on the train to capture certain scenic routes and off for longer stays in specific towns, and this plan worked well for us.

For most of this blog series, I will let the photos tell the story—the beauty of the Rockies being soul-stirring and breathtaking to behold. And yes, I will set a Darcy McClain and Bullet thriller in Canada.

What struck me about this section of the train ride, besides the magnificent terrain, was all the logging. Of course, I knew Canada logged, but I was stunned by the extent of the industry. After doing more research, I was surprised to learn that British Columbia is the world’s largest exporter of softwood lumber, but not that the United States is the biggest buyer. In order of wood exports, close behind the US is China, Japan, Europe, South Korea, and India.

As a child and young adult, when we lived or traveled overseas, I always heard my father say, “Don’t be an ugly American” and “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Unfortunately, not everyone adheres to either one, never mind both. As soon as we boarded this leg of the rail tour, we had the pleasure of the ugly Americans across the aisle from us, and they soon linked up with the Aussie couple seated behind us. Loud and obnoxious, the four grew louder and rowdier as they drank more than their share of wine, starting at 11:00 a.m.

Behind the Americans sat a couple from Edinburgh, Scotland, and next to them a couple from Surrey, England. Both couples were a pleasure to be with and Mil, the woman from Edinburgh, was a real delight. The six of us moved to the rear compartment of the upper deck and enjoyed each other’s company for the duration of the trip. “There’s a reason for everything,” said Mil, motioning toward the boisterous foursome. We soon forgot them as Mil launched into her tale of living on the same street as J.K. Rowling before the Harry Potter author became famous. Mil also mentioned another writer who lived nearby and went on to become famous. The name escapes me, but I do recall Mil’s punch line: “We called our street . . . writer’s block.”

We pulled into the rail station in Quesnel, much later than anticipated due to work on the train tracks along the scheduled route and a wait while railcars hauling freight switched tracks. But no one seemed to care, me included, as a group of us stood outside on our railcar to enjoy the sunny day and to shoot photos. We were rewarded with a bear sighting. He appeared more interested in foraging for food than the train.

Our accommodations for the night, the Best Western Plus Tower Inn, wouldn’t rate even a four star, never mind a five, as someone on the train remarked. A true statement, but the room was clean and spacious, and the bed comfortable. We decided on room service but heard the hotel did not offer this amenity, so we headed downstairs to the dining room and asked a passing server to confirm this. She nodded, but quickly said, “Here’s a menu. Order whatever you’d like and we will box the meals to go.” We thanked her and the kitchen staff, who were most obliging.

We ate our French dip sandwiches in our room, washed them down with wine we had purchased the day before in Whistler, and critiqued our second leg of our rail tour on the Rocky Mountaineer—five stars being top-notch. The service and waitstaff easily won five stars—no debate there. The food, four stars, and as many of our train companions stated, “We didn’t expect the meals to be this good.”

We retired early, ready for our next rail adventure—Quesnel to Jasper, where we planned to disembark from the Rocky Mountaineer and spend two days exploring the area.



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Canada 2015: Vancouver to Whistler, BC

Flying over the snowcapped Rocky Mountains.

For years, a train ride through the Canadian Rockies has been on our bucket list. What reignited this interest was a comment from Diane, who we met at the Hermitage in Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand, in 2014. As I gazed out the windows of the Old Mountaineers’ Cafe, Diane said, “Do you find these mountain peaks impressive?” I replied that I certainly did. She shot back with “Have you seen your Rockies?” I said I had but only certain sections of the range. “The Rockies, now they are impressive,” she informed me.

Diane’s comment revived our desire to see this entire majestic mountain range. We would start with the Canadian Rockies and eventually make our way south. The Rocky Mountains stretch from British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and into northern New Mexico in the United States—for a total of three thousand miles. I’ve seen a portion of the Colorado Rockies, and I’m quite familiar with the southernmost range, which is the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico.

When we returned to the US after our Down Under trip, we began to map out plans for our Canadian rail tour, and the following May (2015) we flew from DFW to Vancouver, BC. On previous stays we booked bed and breakfasts throughout the city, but this time, curious about the Fairmont hotel chain, Dave decided to reserve a Fairmont whenever they were available.

We arrived in Vancouver late on a Friday afternoon, took a leisurely stroll along the wharf, and returned to the Fairmont Waterfront to dress for dinner at Miku Vancouver. We sat on the patio, a tad chilly, but the waitstaff immediately brought a blanket to drape over my legs, and I turned my attention to ordering sushi and hot sake.

After dinner, we took a tour of the Fairmont’s rooftop herb garden and watched the beekeepers tend to the hives, pleased to see Executive Chef Karan Suri’s sustainable creation. And while I am all in favor of minimizing our carbon footprint on the earth, the Fairmont’s sustainability program threw a small wrench into my “good night’s sleep.”

Around midnight, when we were sound asleep, our smoke detector blasted us awake. I went to the window and saw no lights on in the hotel, and the lights in our room weren’t operable. We called the front desk and they asked us if we had read the hotel notice left in our room. Bottom line, we never found a letter in our room stating that for conservation purposes, the electrical system would be shut off and only emergency lighting provided for the rest of the night. Neither one of us had a problem with this. We just wished we had been notified beforehand, such as at check-in. To add to the fitful night, we were dozing off again, after lying awake for three hours, when the electricity came back on and once again our smoke detector blared to life.

Bleary-eyed at 5:00 a.m., we packed to catch our taxi to the railway station. At checkout, the front desk manager apologized profusely for housekeeping not leaving the letter. We suggested that they tell their guests upon check-in rather than rely on a notice being left in the room. Having the smoke detector wake us from a sound sleep, twice, was certainly disruptive.

A bit surprised that the manager did not comp us in any way for a lousy night’s sleep, we hopped into a cab, only to discover that the driver had no idea where the rail station was located. While he was contacting dispatch, David dug out his cell phone and gave the cabbie directions.

“This isn’t starting out well,” I mumbled as I stood on the railway platform shivering in the blustery early morning, waiting for the train—the Rocky Mountaineer Whistler Sea to Sky Climb—to take us from Vancover to the resort town of Whistler. Our seats were at the very front of the train and on the upper deck, giving us a panoramic view of the vivid blue sky overhead and nothing but snowcapped mountains all around us.

Three hours later, we arrived in Whistler and boarded a bus to the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Upon check-in, the front desk clerk informed us that management had upgraded our room to a luxury one-bedroom mountain-view suite and apologized for the previous night at the Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver. He wished us a pleasant stay in Whistler, albeit a short one.

We unpacked and walked into town for a light lunch at Brew House and then spent the rest of the day wandering the shops. On the way back to our suite, we stopped at Marketplace Shopping Centre for wine and made a second stop at La Cantina for tacos. We ate on the small balcony off our room, watching the sun sink over the mountains and Whistler Village. By the way, the tacos were delicious.




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