Le Chic En Rose

Diaries of an independent traveller

After a couple of nights and a full day’s sailing on board the Noordam (see here), it was rather surreal to open our curtains the next morning and realise we had docked in port.

Below us on the quay we got our first glimpse of the USA and South East Alaska’s first port of call, the little town of Ketchikan. Not a particularly auspicious start as it was pouring with rain and the town was coated in a thick mist reminiscent of sea frets in Scotland or northern England on a bad day (from my childhood memories!).

However the green wooded hills dotted with timber cottages reminded me not only of Scotland but also Scandinavia and in the gloom we could also just about make out shops enticing visitors along the quayside stocked with foodstuffs, jewellery and interesting objects such as totem poles reminding us of the First Nations heritage of the area.

So fortified with a hearty breakfast and well rugged up against the rain and cold we braced the elements and set off to explore the township. More to come in the next post!

 

Copyright © 2019 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

We had booked a seven day cruise up from Vancouver to Seward, Alaska. Check-in was relatively quick and efficient but you do have to be patient lining up for US Border Control procedures, which for convenience are carried out in Vancouver (the Alaskan US/Canada border is a few hours sail time north from here).

So on a slightly overcast late summer afternoon we found ourselves boarding our floating home (or rather hotel) for the next week. This was our first experience at cruising and I must confess we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Our ship the Noordam, part of the Holland America line fleet, carried about 1900 passengers yet we didn’t feel our space was unpleasantly crowded. It was somewhat bewildering at first to get our heads round the vast number of possibilities – as well as several cafes, restaurants and bars there were gyms, a swimming pool, a spa retreat, libraries, talks, wine and beer tastings, concerts, musical entertainment – the list goes on! Rather than go into great detail you can read up about the various options here.

 

 

For now I just want to focus on our own personal experience. The itinerary cruises up the Inside Passage along the western Pacific coast of Canada, past the Haida Gwaii (also known as Queen Charlotte Islands) before crossing the US border into Alaska.

Near the extensive shopping area on one of the lower decks was an information board and map charting our progress and current nautical position.

It took a day and a half to reach our first port of call, Ketchikan in South East Alaska  (a narrow strip of land, surrounded by the sea and British Columbia, Canada, dotted with settlements that just about clings on to the larger Alaskan land mass to the north west). Southeast Alaska is the northern end of the Inside Passage, a protected waterway that provides a passage between the many small islands and fjords in this area. Its southern terminus is in Puget Sound in Washington state. The waterway system was of great importance to the local First Nations peoples, the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian. We learnt a great deal about their heritage and culture during the time we spent in Southeast Alaska

I’ll cover the history, heritage and wildlife of the various small towns and communities we visited here in the coming posts.

Back on ship you certainly don’t have to join in anything on board that you don’t want to – the idea is to relax and enjoy yourself. We had booked a suite with a balcony facing towards the land side of the ship. I only took a few photos for some reason but this gives you an idea. It was incredibly comfortable and we were well looked after by our delightful valets – we got custom folded towels each night and they were friendly and helpful without being intrusive. Certainly you can just sit on the balcony and watch the world (or sea) go by if you like.

 

 

 

However we liked to get out on the main deck and soak up the pure fresh air – it was most invigorating and we covered a lot of steps on the Promenade Deck during the course of our trip. Laid out with attractive wooden decking it is designed so that you can walk laps to your heart’s content (or sit and relax on the deckchairs). There is a separate zone on an upper deck for joggers though a few did use the Promenade Deck as well. Three laps was equivalent to a mile so we made sure we got in nine laps a day at least!

We saw our first whales somewhere off the island archipelago – I managed a few distant photos. The ship’s crew are very good at announcing sightings over the loudspeaker – you just have to be in the right place at the right time to spot things though.

 

 

 

Our cruise package covered up to 15 standard drinks a day (which I certainly didn’t use, others though….). There were options for wine deals too but with an all-inclusive drinks package we weren’t tempted though I did go with one of our friends to a very interesting wine tasting where there was nearly a fight (nothing to do with us I hasten to add!). A couple of parties sculled their glasses of wine before the sommelier had a chance to explain the tasting notes thus rather missing the point of the event! However this hardly justified a couple of wine snobs having a go at them in the rudest manner possible – the situation was fortunately narrowly defused!

There were a couple of optional gala dinners on board and whilst I was a little apprehensive as we hadn’t packed anything too fancy (coming all the way from Australia with dinner jackets and ball gowns was not an option) it was actually more casual than I’d expected and a pleasant chance to a enjoy a gourmet dining experience.

 

 

I was also worried about potential seasickness beforehand as I have no sea legs whatsoever. I had bought some special bracelets from the pharmacist before I left home, which you wear on your wrist pressure points to ease any sickness. Whether it was psychosomatic or not I had no problem at all even on slightly rougher days. I heard later quite a few people had been sea sick on the first couple of days so I was glad I had the wrist bands with me.

So from being a sceptic I can say we would certainly consider doing another cruise at some point in future – not too long though, for us a week was just about perfect.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

 

I did a quick preview of our Alaskan travels just after we got back home here.

I’m now starting to collate and write up the stories of our travels there last August. By way of a superb photographic introduction I’m sharing a gallery of photos taken by an Italian girl named Cecilia who we met on a day tour of Denali National Park. She very kindly let me have some copies with permission to publish them on my blog. I don’t think any further words from me are necessary – grazie molto Cecilia!

 

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Copyright © 2019 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

Having viewed the Kicking Horse Pass from the Spiral Tunnels Lookout point (see here), we stopped a little later to get a closer look at the river as it thunders through the Natural Bridge another tourist attraction in the Yoho National Park. It’s only a short distance off the Emerald Lake Road, west of Field and is well worth the little detour.

With spectacular rock formations eroded over time by the elements, the river passes through a narrow chasm in the rocks with incredible speed and a thundering noise!

 

 

 

I did take a short video, which gives you an idea of the immense power of the torrent of water. If you click on the start button the video does come out the right way despite appearances to the contrary!

 

 

 

Having taken time out to explore the Yoho National Park and its attractions, we were keen to get a move on to our overnight stop at Kelowna. We already knew that there was a wild fire near Revelstoke on both sides of the Trans-Canada Highway and whilst it was safe to pass through the area, the air was thick with smoke, which reduced visibility. Hence we didn’t take too many photos. The following map taken from Geology.com (link here), gives you an idea of the scale of the land. Banff, where we had been staying, is 126.8 km west of Calgary.

(Copyright information: The map on this page was composed by Angela King and Brad Cole and is copyright by Geology.com © 2008. This image is not available for use beyond their websites. If you share the map with others, please link to their page (link in previous paragraph) as per their request. The satellite image was produced using Landsat data from NASA and the map was produced using data licensed from and copyright by Map Resources © 2008.)

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It was interesting to journey through some of British Columbia’s lesser known places for example we stopped off for lunch at the quaintly named Golden with its history closely tied to the development of the Canadian Pacific Railway line. We had lunch on a little island in the river (reached by bridge).

 

 

Afternoon tea and a short stroll round the small town of Revelstoke.

 

 

 

And finally a drive along the Mara Lake and the lush pastoral region of the Okanagan as the sun was just starting to set in a smoky haze.

 

 

The next day we arrived back in Vancouver, having come full circle through the Rockies (Vancouver to Banff via Kamloops on the train and back on the road via Kelowna). You can read the full collection of Canadian posts here.

The following day we boarded our cruise up to Alaska – plenty more posts about our adventures there to come!

 

Copyright © 2019 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

 

 

Heading back along the Trans-Canada Highway towards Vancouver we stopped off for a break at the Spiral Tunnels look-out point west of Lake Louise. Now back across the border in British Colombia (clocks go back an hour to Pacific Time) we were retracing some of the journey we had made on the Rocky Mountaineer (see here and here).

One memorable part of the rail journey passes through a series of tunnels that twist and switch back on themselves as they wend their way under the appropriately named Big Hill. The Canadian Pacific Railway wanted to cut through Kicking Horse Pass in the Yoho National Park en route to the west coast. The “hill”, near the tiny settlement of Field, was by far the most difficult and treacherous part of the track and a decision was made to upgrade to a tunnel system in the early 20th century.

Why did the pass get its unusual name? Originally the area was explored by the Palliser Expedition between 1857 and 1860. An unfortunate incident occurred when Dr James Hector, the surgeon to the expedition, was out and about and somehow got himself kicked by his horse. Believing him to be dead his fellow adventurers dug a grave for him but he regained consciousness at the 11th hour (well that’s what he told everyone later)! Maybe the horse had got totally fed up with having to ride through the dense and mountainous terrain and vented its frustration on its master. Anyway the moniker stuck and it remains Kicking Horse Pass to this day.

Journeying in the train it reminded us of the switchback system used on many of the Swiss railways we’ve travelled on where you go into a tunnel in one direction and come out again going the opposite way – somewhat disorientating! From what our guides told us on the Rocky Mountaineer, the Swiss engineering system was indeed the inspiration. You get a sense of the achievement when you look out across the pass that appears almost impassable when viewed from above.

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Despite the improvements the Kicking Horse Pass area remains a challenging route for trains till this day. I was quite shocked to read the following whilst researching this post (taken from the Wikipedia article on the Big Hill and Spiral Tunnels that I’ve linked previously).

The most recent derailment occurred on February 4, 2019, when Canadian Pacific train 301 was proceeding westward to Vancouver. 99 cars and 2 locomotives derailed at Mile 130.6, just outside of the western portal of Upper Spiral Tunnel. The train crew consisted of a locomotive engineer, a conductor and a conductor trainee. The three crew members were killed.

One can only admire the efforts and sacrifices made by the pioneering rail engineers all those years ago.

 

Copyright © 2019 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

Having taken the Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver to Banff (see here), we took the road option for the return journey via the Trans-Canada Highway. The road hugs the side of the rail tracks for quite a bit of the route and winds through some spectacular scenery along the way.

Unlike the train journey we were free to stop off and explore some of the sights at our leisure. First stop out of Banff was Lake Louise – world famous for the picture perfect calendar and postcard shots of the pristine lake surrounded by the magnificent Rockies.

 

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However unless you choose to stay in the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise you’ll find it quite hard to get easy access to the lake.  Lake Louise Village is actually situated a couple of kilometres or so down the road from the lake itself and we didn’t have time to park and walk from there. We continued on by road up to the lake area but found parking impossible (you probably need to arrive first thing in the morning to get a spot). There is no way of seeing even a glimpse of the lake from the road. Packed with tourists, it was something of a disappointment. I did manage to get a couple of shots of the hotel from the car as we drove along!

 

 

However we had more luck further along the highway. Crossing over the border to British Columbia, we came across the turn off for Emerald Lake, which had been highly recommended to us. As we drove up to the parking area we fully expected it to be full. Although reasonably crowded we were able to get a spot only a couple of hundred metres or so from the lakeside. A bridge led out onto the trail at the head of the lake. Part of the Yoho National Park, Emerald Lake is the largest of the 61 lakes in this region. It is jaw-droppingly beautiful – the turquoise/green waters reflecting the dense foliage of the trees, the mountains in the background and the air surprisingly pure despite the post wildfire smoky haze in the distance.

 

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The first path led up to a luxury lodge  – one could hardly imagine a more perfect setting on the shores of the exquisitely emerald waters of the eponymous lake. Apparently the distinctive hue is caused by the effect of powdered limestone being swept into the waters as the snow melts and it is particularly stunning in July though it didn’t look too bad in August! The lake is frozen from November to June owing to its high altitude.

 

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A 5.2 kilometre trail (the first half suitable for wheelchairs) wends its way right round the lake though we were on a tight schedule and couldn’t stay too long. Again, as we found in all the parks we visited in Canada, there was plenty of information about the flora and fauna, the climate and sensible precautions to take in the event of bear encounters or snow season (avoiding avalanches for example).

 

 

 

Although we had to get going I did have time to have a quick look inside the well stocked gift shop and enjoy a last long lingering gaze across the beautiful lake.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

 

Lake Johnson a few kilometres out of Banff was, according to guide books, well worth a visit. A short drive out of town, it has a good walking trail round the lake. As it is at a reasonably low elevation it is usually snow free from April onwards though that wasn’t a consideration for us on a sultry August day.

With Banff being rather hot and smoky we were looking forward to the chance to walk in slightly clearer surroundings. 3.5 kilometres (2.2 miles) in total, the walk was relatively straightforward, a little uphill in parts though not particularly strenuous. For much of the trail you can enjoy lovely views back across the lake to Cascade Mountain.

 

The path also passes through spruce forests, crosses over a few mountain streams and winds through several glades where an abundance of juicy looking red berries were growing. We weren’t sure whether they were edible for humans but they would certainly appeal to the local bears. We knew that around late summer the bears are particularly keen to eat as much as possible to sustain them through the long barren winter months. Hence we went a little gingerly through the clearings full of ripe berry bushes (which our friend described as a “bear smorgasbord”) not wanting to come between any hungry bears and their afternoon snack!

 

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No sightings however and we wended our way back unscathed to the picnic and recreation area at the entrance to the lake. Evidently this was a very popular spot with the locals – many families were enjoying picnics (we were a little surprised given the abundance of bear warnings round the place) or kayaking and swimming in the cooling waters of the lake.

 

 

Information panels gave us more insight into the eco system and environment in this part of the world.

 

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Although there were quite a few visitors to the lake, for much for our walk along the trail we felt we had the place to ourselves. The lake was pristine and we had some respite from the smoky air caused by the drift from the wildfires further north. A peaceful and serene place, Lake Johnson is a lovely spot for a gentle hike.

 

 

Restless Jo does a wonderful job of writing up her regular walks in her new home in the Algarve Portugal (and prior to that out and about in the UK). She collates both her own and other people’s walking posts in her weekly “Monday Walk” – well worth checking out for ideas, inspiration and virtual travelling!

Copyright © 2019 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

January has flown by and the long summer holidays are officially over – school went back this week and as seems to be tradition the weather has heated up!

We’ve spent the past month or so out and about most days with several overseas visitors enjoying the (up to now) milder summer weather and also taking advantage of the summer film festivals and another favourite of ours the Perth Fringe Festival.

I have still been taking photos though not blogging as much, so by way of a recap here is a photo montage of January summer days (see here for various previous posts I’ve done about Perth and its environs).

 

 

I’ve set myself the challenge of finishing my Canada and Alaska series before we head off again to the northern hemisphere at the end of April!

 

Copyright © 2019 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

One of the tourist highlights in Banff is to take the Banff Gondola up to the top of Sulphur Mountain to enjoy the spectacular views of Banff, the Bow Valley and the surrounding Rockie mountains afforded from the summit.

However any thoughts of stunning vistas and breathtaking scenery were put to one side as Banff was blanketed for our entire visit in the smoky haze drifting from an enormous wildfire burning some distance away in the national park beyond Lake Louise.

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However we were only in Banff for 3 nights, had no idea when we might be back again and it seemed a pity to miss out completely on such a treat – well for me anyway. Monsieur hates heights and so he left me and one of our travelling companions to go up in the gondola on a hot, smoky August morning whilst he headed back into town with the other.

It definitely pays to get there as early as possible in the morning before the crowds arrive. Even on a day when visibility was poor and warning signs were in place about the lack of views and the possible smoke effects, there was a surprisingly large number of people at the summit. Children also go free before 10 am so it is well worth it for families to take up that option as it certainly isn’t cheap. Also a 10% discount applies if you book 48 hours or more in advance.

At the summit there are a number of retail outlets and cafes including the Northern Lights Cafe where we had a late breakfast before setting out on the self-guided Banff Skywalk. Despite the reduced view, the walk was actually very interesting in itself. Up a series of interconnected boardwalks, regular information signs tell you about the flora and fauna of the mountains. For example the increasingly rare Whitebark Pines still grow here, an endangered species since 2012.

 

Wending your way to the top of the walk you reach a craggy cairn known as Sanson’s Peak. The name commemorates Norman Sanson, curator of the Banff National Park Museum from 1896 to 1932, who not only collected a myriad of specimens for the museum during his lifetime but also recorded meteorological data for many years, regularly climbing up the peak to obtain data.  Sanson’s Peak is also the home of the Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site , a scientific station set up as part of International Geophysical Year in 1957-1958. Canadian scientists were an integral part of the data collection studying cosmic rays and space particles entering the atmosphere. The station was closed in 1978 and so this rocky memorial perched above Banff is all that remains today.

 

I did hesitate whether to include the Banff Gondola in my Banff series of posts (see here and here for the others) as it was hardly the best day to see the usually stunning views. However travelling doesn’t always go to plan – there will be delays, inclement weather and other glitches. The photos hopefully still give you a flavour of what Sulphur Mountain would be like on a clear day. In addition to the boardwalk trail there are also hiking trails criss-crossing the mountain. It wasn’t really the day though to be lingering outside too long – we started to get itchy eyes and tickling throats from the effects of the smoke so headed back down the mountain again after a short while.

 

Later that day we drove out to the other side of the valley near the site of the Banff Centre (an arts and creative centre affiliated with the University of Calgary) where you can look back towards Sulphur and Rundle Mountains and normally enjoy a wonderful view. In the late 19th century hot springs were discovered in the area and today there is a large hotel and spa complex in the valley, which you can just about make out in the haze!

 

 

 

Copyright © 2019 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

A very happy New Year to everyone!

We have had a busy Christmas and New Year with family visitors including our daughter, Mlle, from London for 3 weeks and my cousin from New Zealand for a few days. All this has taken precedence over blogging!

We have done outings to the zoo where the highlight for our granddaughters was Zoorassic Park, following the dinosaur trail, though we also had an unexpected treat when we literally nearly bumped into Tricia, the 61 year old matriarch of the Perth elephant herd, on one of her daily walks round the zoo.

Cafes, restaurants, outings up the coast to Yanchep Lagoon and inland to the wineries of Swan Valley plus a cricket game at Optus Stadium have taken up our time too. The weather is pleasantly mild – am hoping it stays that way as I much prefer the cooling effects of the strong coastal breeze.

Hope everyone else has had a good holiday period and very best wishes for 2019!

 

 

 

Copyright © 2019 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

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