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Journey to the far side of the world - 1

Back to curling. This year my team was fortunate to again qualify to represent England at the World Seniors, and the competition was held this time in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. (Last year was Karlstad, Sweden – see previous blogs). As this was a really substantial distance from Riyadh, we decided to make a big holiday of the event, and planned out a 2+ week itinerary covering some of Western Canada and finishing in Lethbridge. The details had been meticulously constructed over four months and involved a lot of travelling and sightseeing (travelling – me? – surely not!).

Elaine had returned to the UK at the beginning of April so we met up in Amsterdam Schipol airport for a KLM flight to Vancouver. I flew there from Riyadh via Paris CDG. Not the most direct flight for me but it avoided a flight the other way around the world via the Pacific with a change at any one of the east Asian hubs. It also added up to the most reasonable fare for us with a quality airline and avoided flying against the sun which, from experience, adds an extra dimension to jet-lag. A further consideration was that some of the Asian carriers that fly from the Middle East to North America have seats that are designed to fit Asian people, who are on average a few inches shorter and thinner than I am. I had never been to Schipol (by plane) before and was very impressed how well organised it was. If arriving and departing via KLM there is no need to go through any further security checks there. One disembarks into the common arrivals / departure / duty-free circulation area and just goes to the departure gate for the outbound flight. If only more hubs did that, flying, which is now a hassle in most areas would be significantly easier. A curious loophole aspect of flying via AMS is that the current ban on flying with a laptop in one’s hand baggage from Saudi (and some other ME countries) to the UK and North America is circumvented, and I was able to retain mine with me.

On arrival at Vancouver we picked up a hire car and drove to the ferry port of Tsawwassen for the 95 minute sailing to Vancouver Island. I had forgotten how beautiful the voyage is (we had last travelled there 27 years ago) and the ferry sails through a lovely set of dog-leg narrows between Galiano and Mayne Islands en route. After docking at Swartz Bay we drove to Victoria (capital of BC province – possible Biggar Kirk Quiz question next year) to stay a couple of nights with my aunt. During our two-day stay on the island we enjoyed Tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria – the iconic former Canadian Pacific Railway terminus hotel, and a visit to Butchart Gardens, in my opinion one of the loveliest in the world. If you get a chance, do go there. Our visit in mid-April was extra special as the fruit trees were in blossom.


Butchart Gardens

Our return to the mainland was via a scenic drive over the “Malahat” pass then a ferry from Nanaimo back to Tsawwassen. We stayed for two nights in the Vancouver city centre, and as well as spending some quality time with an old friend of Elaine’s we explored the city. Places visited included Stanley Park, Granville Island and Gastown – home of the world’s first steam powered clock! Out of professional interest I also had a couple of journeys on the Skytrain, one of the early and the longest in the world driverless metro systems. Vancouver has so much to offer that it is impossible to do it justice in a few days, as befits a city that is perpetually in the top ten best cities in the world. I’d love to go back and spend a much longer time there.


Gastown steam clock

Our departure from Vancouver was in style, on board the Rocky Mountaineer scenic luxury train. This was the two-day journey to Banff, with an overnight stay in the town of Kamloops. I could go on at length about the journey, but will leave it to your imagination, except to say that it was a fascinating journey with amazing scenery (the train slowed down for the real highlights), and we saw a lot of wildlife too. This included big-horn sheep, elk, beaver, and even a mother and cub black bear that looked as if they were fresh out of hibernation. Our arrival in Banff was augmented by our curling team mates lining up with the local RM staff to greet the train’s arrival there. Our colleagues had arranged two nights in Banff to acclimatise to the 7-hour time difference from the UK prior to the competition.


Kamloops sunset


Rocky Mountaineer at Banff

To be continued…


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