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British Columbia and the Prairies

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Late June. the time of sunshine, green grass, getting out of school…and…an attempt at crossing the nation. Imagine that. Us setting out from the southern tip of Vancouver Island and inching across the second-largest country on Earth.

From the fjords and inlets of British Columbia through the Rocky Mountains and their glaciers, across the great wide open spaces and golden wheat fields of the Prairies, through Ontario in early Autumn, the forests of Quebec and, finally, to the ruggedness of the eastern “Maritime” provinces of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the great nation of Canada!

Here’s our air transport system…DSC_0431

This was a family experience to behold. We got as far as Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. My sister, my mum and dad, our dalmatian, Daphne, and our Volkswagen camper. But it was great fun, we had two weeks on the road and they were an eye-opener for a ten-year-old.

The first day covered the always-scenic ferry route between Swartz Bay near the town of Sidney, B.C., where we lived, and Tsawwassen, outside Vancouver. The hour-and-a-half sailing conjured up a romantic image.

There was Active Pass between Galiano and Maine Islands, where the west and east-bound ferries would pass within a few hundred metres. It was always entertaining to wave to the other ship.

English: BC Ferries' Queen of Saanich navigati...

English: BC Ferries’ Queen of Saanich navigating Active Pass enroute to Swartz Bay, British Columbia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By dusk we were in the interior of the province, a place called Osoyoos, home to Canada’s one and only desert. It was a pleasant, green site in evening sunshine where we camped, and toasted to our journey with plastic cups and apple juice.

They were fun nights too. We would listen to the crickets croak. Just of think of that. Us sleeping amongst the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. It gave me goosebumps.

We would chit-chat into the small hours and awake, groggy, to a bright sunshine overseeing the mountains overseeing the valleys in high summer. I’d never wanted to get up early before that. I’ve done it ever since.

As we crossed deep into the Interior of British Columbia, we came across its unspeakable beauty. We stopped in the small town of Nelson, often seen in movies. This hillside town overlooks a lake of the same name and was a pleasant addition to our trip. It is notable not only for its scenery, but for its character.

English: Mount Robson, Mount Robson Provincial...

English: Mount Robson, Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It conforms to a grid system for its streets but it seemed not to have a false atmosphere. The campsite was spent amongst a campsite full of greenery and trees, occupied, in turn, by cute, fuzzy creatures such as raccoons and squirrels. It also had exquisite Lake Nelson as its backdrop.

Rocky Mountains

Rocky Mountains (Photo credit: The Brit_2)

Some pleasant memories lie in that campsite. My family were all together, my sister and I were able to run around unrestrained. As we walked our dalmatian on the gravel, dog-poo littered beach (I just ruined everyone’s pristine image of the my homeland), I felt the most joy I had done in many months…possibly even years.

The Fraser river! Many have chanced the rapids of this rushing torrent of water and lost. The whitewater rafting goes on all year and is not to be tackled by the faint-hearted.

There had been no deaths that year, to our knowledge, but we felt that we neither had the money nor time (bags of courage!) to brave the iciness and extreme, life-threatening cold that it had to offer.

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If you’ve never seen a glacier, then you should start with the Columbia Glacier. It is FANTASTIC!! One could see the thickness of it from our angle. It must have been a hundred feet thick at least! Wow, that took it out of me…Its too bad that we only saw it from the vehicle. But it will last with me forever.

Jasper was great, the national park where elk and man may co-exist. The park lies on the Albertan side of the provincial border. The creatures wander around freely and will even come up close and personal with your vehicle. They’re sweet mammals, too. Leave them alone and they won’t harm you. Here are some shots of the park…

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We spent two days here, swatting mosquitoes and other animals, namely elk and humans, before penetrating deep into Alberta true.

Alberta, as you may have presumed, is named after British royalty and has the amazing claim that one can sometimes drive for 10 miles with not even the slightest bend in the road, shuffle up to a closed train crossing and sit for several minutes while a train pulling more than a miles worth of wheat carriages goes by, and drive another ten miles with no bends again.

I scooped up  pile of dirt in a plastic cup labelled “Alberta”; a tradition that I followed through on in Saskatchewan.

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Canada is the world’s largest exporter of wheat and the fourth largest grower. It isn’t difficult to see why when you consider the distance between the Canadian Shield…a rocky, barren sub-tundra group of ice-age rocks…and the Rocky Mountains.

It is seven to eight hundred miles by road from Calgary to Winnipeg, depending on which road you take. As for the campsites in this part of the world, they’re o.k., except for when we stopped at a place called North Battleford, Saskatchewan.

It was run down, only offered a broken picnic table, stank of the brown stuff and had more mosquitoes than grass blades. It was around this time that we decided, due to our camper’s chronic engine trouble, that it was best to head as far as Moose Jaw.

We then witnessed an air show, and head home. This met with some disappointment, but we were running a little low on the ka-ching so it had to be done. Besides, this is what Saskatchewan looks like…

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As I recall, the show was pretty good for my dad and I, but purgatory for my mother and sister. I don’t blame them. I think of how much I used to hate clothe-shopping. Now it’s rather fun. We saw the famous Snowbirds there…just three passes, kinda dull.

Then there was the chance, which I took, to sit in the front cockpit of a “Tutor” trainer aircraft, the type used by the team, and flick switches! It’s a shame I have no photographs of this or the other two journeys, in the blog. We were glad, of course, to see our house again.

Once, we had an attempt, and failed again, at a four-day jaunt from our home on Vancouver Island to Calgary. Our little Honda Accord had ignition trouble. Great.

We did, however, get to drive through Hope, in Silver Lake Provincial Park, and other small communities such as Penticton and Revelstoke, where we aborted the attempt.

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Description unavailable (Photo credit: Magalie L’Abbé)

I remember us having to receive assistance from the ferry company when we docked to start our car again. Oh boy…they weren’t happy.

But it truly was a privilege to lose myself in the wilds of the Rocky Mountains.

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The Adriatic (Credit to Rebecca Cox for photography)

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It was a late August day. We set out under bright blue summer skies in what is generally acknowledged as warm weather in England. It was an eventful journey. After having stopped in a lay-by and bought the usual assortment of refreshments for a journey from Gloucestershire to Luton Airport.

Ryanair EI-DPC taxies at Luton airport

Ryanair EI-DPC taxies at Luton airport (Photo credit: bigpresh)

After a while, though, around Milton Keynes, my mother began to get agitated with “my navigation”. I was responsible for failing to identify three roundabouts that didn’t appear on the map. As it turns out, they weren’t on the map. Anyway, after a heated argument, we realised this and continued normally.

Upon arrival at Luton around six in the evening, we began the check-in procedure. No biggie. Neither was the flight.

We took off around eight and landed at ten. What WAS worrying, however, was that my father, who had set off across Europe some time previously to meet us at Venice’s Treviso Airport, was nowhere to be seen nor heard from. We tried calling his mobile.

No luck. While, initially, I thought this was probably a mobile phone reception problem, my mother began to worry. She began to fear he had had an accident and went frantic.

This lasted for a couple of hours, during which time I had to ask a cop, or carabinieri, for some money to use for a payphone. For the next hour or so, my mother seriously fretted due to the fact that we could not get in touch with him.

To clear my head, I stepped outside. It was then that my father, quite by chance, drove by. This was a great relief to my mother and I. It transpired that he had no signal and was lost. Right now. Time to hit the road.

Its after one o’clock in the morning and we need to rest so the first night will be a “pit stop” in an autostrada, their motorway, service station. The car we were using was a Volkswagen Polo and it was CRAMPED.

I had to stuff my foot through, then wedge my shoulder in and, finally, use levering force to get into the car. Good times! So we arrived at a spot just outside Trieste where the next four or five hours was a combination of restlessness and hovering a round in the shop with some hanging out under the stars.

That was cool! On the road again…We went to see the famous Lipizzaner Stallions at the Lipica 1580 Stud Farm. Lipica’s history is heavily influenced by the Habsburgs who ruled the Austro-Hungarian empire for circa 650 years.

English: Favory Pallavicina, approved Lipizzan...

English: Favory Pallavicina, approved Lipizzan stallion, Australia Deutsch: Favory Pallavicina, gekörter Lipizzanerhengst, Australien (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Horses, especially the Spanish Horse, were valued for both military and commercial reasons. Archduke Charles chose to build the Royal Stud Farm in 1578.

We hung around the stables while being given a guided tour and took photographs. The farm was a lovely place, greenery abound!

The port of Trieste was highlighted by bright Italian sunshine that laid the container ships bare in the light of day. We crossed the border shortly thereafter and promptly found a market on the Croatian side and bought the best grapes I have ever tasted from the lady depicted below.croatia 3 116

It was a hot day and I had my T-shirt off, (wolf whistles) after having stepped out of the car, and strode over to the barrier, from where we could see the brilliant Azure of the water in the bay. I can still remember the radiance of the sun against the tarmac. It was tremendous that day.

The first night at a campsite was spent at a reasonably cheap place on the coast that had a traditional style Slovenian seafood restaurant. Every meal I ate at a restaurant on this trip was dead seafood still looking at me.

Fish dinner

Fish dinner (Photo credit: The Hungarian Girl)

It was a lovely restaurant, surrounded by terracotta houses that, in turn, surrounded the bay. However, I didn’t finish my meal and never got to grips with the cuisine in the region.

The sea by the campsite was crystal clear. As dusk set, we decided to have a dip. It was a good choice. Water that seemed to come out of a hot spring greeted our feet and we were “bitten by the bug”. Pitching the tent was fun and games. It was a two-man tent, which meant my dad had to sleep in the car.

That was interesting. It was a noisy night. We had a group of teenagers for neighbours and they were four or five in number, shreiking till all hours. More than that, there was an equal number of guys to girls. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

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A little while later, we made a stop in a small Croatian town that struck me for two reasons. Firstly, because of the Croatian architecture. The buildings were made of granite and were quite different to those on the Slovenian side. At least in appearance anyway. This could have been Rovinj.

The second reason was that a woman behind the till in a shop was the only person we encountered who recognized my father’s North American accent. We stopped by the waterfront for a while and had a drink there, the cool stone pavement was a relief.

Street Walking

Street Walking (Photo credit: Let Ideas Compete)

We were sat by the harbour. I don’t recall if it was the one featured at the beginning, but it was lovely.

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Later on, in the city of Pula, we saw the roman amphitheatre shown above. The amphitheatre is amongst six of the largest surviving, out of 200, amphitheatres from the great empire and was constructed between 27-68 A.D.

It is also unique because no other survivor has four side towers and all three architectural orders, or styles, intact. Please don’t mistake me for an expert. In fact, that is information off the net and we never went inside. But we got a few good shots of it, laugh.

Split was the best! It wasn’t much to look at from afar. Lots of old soviet-style apartment blocks straddle it to the North and South. However, the harbour and old city were gorgeous. This is a typical scene.

We rested here for a night and spent some time around the harbour. It was paradise.There were tenors singing in the Mediterranean warmth. Heaven.

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Dubrovnik, nestled in the hills, afforded us great views…but it was the residents that were fascinating. The parking arrangement was crazy.

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And so, I’ll leave you there. Bye!

(Credit to Rebecca Cox for the photography)