Brendan/Brennan (again, darn it)

This tour was originally scheduled in 2007 but moved up to 2005 when I decided to cancel out of the "Himalayan Kingdoms" trip with Geographic Expeditions due to the fact that GeoEx kept raising the price and/or finding new things to charge for. However if I had known that Brendan would stick us with another Brennan tour (after the poor "Cloudy Rainy Valleys" tour / tour director) I would have chosen something else.

Day 1, Saturday May 28 Arrive in Vancouver
Another trip where I drive to the airport and park there rather than try for a taxi since the arrival time back home is late and parking would be about the same total cost.

1America West HP0765Houston - Phoenix8:20 AM - 9:20 AM3:000:50
2America West HP0506Phoenix - Vancouver10:10 AM - 1:26 PM3:167:06

If I'm lucky, we will have something better than snacks on the Phoenix to Vancouver flight since it is across the lunch hour (not likely though - and we didn't - only 0.4 oz of peanuts and we only got 2 small crackers on the Houston-Phoenix flight). Arrive in very hot Vancouver and transfer on our own (Brennan is too cheap to provide any shuttle service so use the "Airporter" for $12) to the Metropolitan Hotel. Easy enough - it just takes a while.

The above map is a bit different from our trip: almost all the continental Canada travel - except in the Parks area - is by rail, and the trip is in the reverse order. Original map file was accidentally deleted.

Here our Western Canadian vacation begins with tonight's Welcome Reception - snacks (probably minimal from Brennan - turns out a bit better than minimal, but not by much) and drinks provided - at 6:30, hosted by our mostly disorganized Brennan Tour Director, Greg Roy. As usual for Brennan, we only wear our nametags one time - bad deal since there is no way we can learn every ones name in just a few minutes on the first evening. After getting us somewhat more confused about procedures and luggage tags, he turns us (26 on the tour) out on our own. Dinner is on our own (Brendan says dinner included; Brennan, no). Hotel: Metropolitan Hotel - very nice, but extremely hard bed. Ouch - not a good night. (Another Brennan procedure that I don't like: Globus and Grand European - and others - tour directors post a written information/schedule sheet in the lobby of each hotel; Brennan doesn't and so we have to rely on hopefully getting correct information and updates by word of mouth.)

Day 2, Sunday, May 29 Vancouver - Kamloops - Rocky Mountaineer
Up at 4:45 for bags ready at 5:30 and on the bus at 6:45. We have to have an extra overnighter since our main bag goes straight to Banff. Luckily I read every line in the trip documentation - there's only a single line about it - and brought an extra small folding bag. No breakfast here - it will be much, much, much later on board. All Aboard! At Vancouver's new Rocky Mountaineer (not the Pacific Central as listed) Station, board the Rocky Mountaineer, supposedly at 7:20 but it turns out to be 8:10 (our tour director is wrong.) Finally away a little after 9. There are 4 baggage cars and 28 passenger cars. Just less than half will split off at Kamloops and head to Jasper tomorrow rather than to Banff. Since we are late, we've missed our timeslot in the train traffic so as the day progresses, we are constantly stopped on a siding to let the freight trains go on through. The US has "AMTrack"; Mexico has "DamnTrack"; Canada has "WaitTrack."

Only after that do we get our breakfast - decent, better than airline fare but since my system is still mostly on Houston time, it feels like 11:30 AM - 6 hours later than usual. It's hot outside, but fortunately the a/c works in our coach (it isn't working in first class for our two tour members there). Very nice coach attendant - Jenny. The chairs are comfortable and the views good - when we can see something past the trackside lush green foliage. Unfortunately for me, it seems most of the best sights and all the wildlife (what little we did get a chance to see) are on the other side of the tracks. (OK, I did see one ground squirrel.)

Pass through the fertile fields of the Fraser River Valley. It is here that most of the vegetables and dairy products for Vancouver are produced. Originally much of this land was unusable because of the frequent flooding by the Fraser River. With the immigration of many Dutch farmers during the 1930's, canals and dikes were built enabling the land to be better utilized.

Lunch is airline style - pre-prepared, but very good. No complaints. We have a choice of two entrees. I'm pleasantly surprised with the quality of the lunches on both days. None of the meals are 'hot' but they are good. We are served at our seats - not in a dining car. As the day progresses from hot (outside) to extremely hot, pass the towering peaks of the Coastal Mountains before entering the Fraser Canyon, once a treacherous route for the miners heading north to the gold fields of the Yukon. Follow the Thompson River through beautiful but desolate high desert landscapes to historic Kamloops (where it is 39C/101F), gateway to the interior of British Columbia. The scenery here is much like that on the mid Columbia River trip - it's the same geology / ecology.

Midway through the day, Greg gives us a <2 minute "talk" about our optional excursions in Banff and Jasper (Brennan doesn't give us anything in writing, much less in advance) and we have to make our decision immediately - lousy planning and/or high pressure selling. My impression and confidence in Brennan continues to plummet. For that matter, in Brendan also due to the probability of another 'bait and switch' bad deal.

We are over an hour and a half late arriving in Kamloops and are told that we will go directly to the show then our luggage will be taken to the hotel and put into our room. So as soon as we get off the train and onto our old converted school bus (#13) with no a/c, the driver tries to get it started to take us to the show - if she can get it started. Finally on our way, we then find out that first we have to take our overnight luggage to the hotel (Accent Inn) and drop it off - to be taken to our room while we are at the show. When we take our luggage into the lobby to leave it (as directed by the Rocky Mountaineer tour operators who also made the hotel arrangements) the manager bitches at us for taking up space in the lobby. Later, is our luggage in our room - of course not. While we were away, it's been heaped into a big pile for us to dig and find our own.

It wouldn't have taken long to give us our room keys and let us take our luggage to the rooms, but they ("Rocky Mountaineer" - it's "their" show) are holding the show for us. The reason that's so bad is that ours is the first show of the evening; there's another show for the people who came in the other way from Calgary.

The old bus eventually struggles it's way up the hills to the conference center where tonight we are supposed to enjoy fun, food and music at the Two River Junction Dinner and Musical Review (please that they have chairs, not benches or I will probably have to skip it - yes, chairs). Unfortunately the lead singer is out sick so we just get a makeshift collection of songs - decent but not my favorite music. We are told that we are to get a $37.50 refund - through our tour company since that's how our tickets were purchased. Its questionable if we will ever see anything.

Not only that, but the food is at best decent - sorta. For example, the meat is full of gristle and extremely hard to cut. The show is finally over a bit after 9:45. Since it will take the staff a while to clean up and reset for the second show, I feel sorry for those people. They won't be through until well after midnight. Blame it all on "WaitTrack". After the show, the old school bus struggles its way down the hills back to our no-service-provided hotel. Overnight in Kamloops. (B,L,D) Hotel: Accent Inn with surly, bitchy personnel and no service (dis-service anyone?) but at least the a/c works.

Day 3, Monday, May 30 Kamloops - Banff (Rocky Mountaineer)
Up at 4:45 (someone in the room the previous night left the alarm set) so, remembering the after-9 (after 11 Houston time and my stomach is still set that way) breakfast of yesterday, I go across the street to McDonalds for breakfast. We board our bus (nice one this time) at 6:30 to go back to the train. I wish we could have seen more of the Kamloops area; from the early morning walk (to McDonalds and a few blocks around) the surrounding area looks very interesting. Bah, humbug!

Back on board the Rocky Mountaineer for a 7AM departure, journey from Kamloops through vast ranchlands along the South Thompson River to Shuswap Lake, with its thousand miles of shoreline (all on the other side of the tracks). The scenery changes back to green forests - beautiful with a nice river or lake often alongside when we can see past the trackside foliage. Pass Craigellachie, where the "last spike" was driven to complete the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885. Just before we get to the tunnels, we see a huge forest fire ahead of us - it's in YoHo National Park. Only brief glimpses of the flames due to the tracks twisting and turning, and the trees, but the smoke from the fire is very visible for quite a while. It may be a controlled burn due to a pine beetle infestation, but we can't tell for sure.

Enter Rogers Pass, with its tunnels, snow sheds and glistening glaciers. The Kicking Horse River leads us to Kicking Horse Pass, the Spiral Tunnels (a bit mis-named) and over the Continental Divide (at only 5000') to Banff and Banff National Park for a relaxing two-night stay - again, over an hour late (7:30 MDT). Hotel: Royal Canadian Lodge, Banff (2 nights) (B,L,D) Delayed dinner (due to our late arrival) but it's very nice hotel and excellent dinner. It's a very nice room also. There's even a fireplace - great if it were the winter season. Things are improving, and this turns out to be my favorite hotel and favorite stop on the entire trip.

Day 4, Tuesday, May 31 Banff to Lake Louise - Sightseeing
Breakfast at the hotel (nice, choose from a menu) at 6:30, then onboard the bus at 8:15. Oops, not 8:15 but 8:45. Our tour director changed the time but didn't bother to tell everyone. Take a minute and breathe in the fresh mountain air. It's nice and pleasantly cool this morning - perfect for an early morning walk around town. This day's tour starts with an optional gondola ride to the top of the Sulphur Mountain and a great panoramic view around the area. Then a quick check of a couple of the highlights of Banff including - Bow Falls and Tunnel Mountain. Next travel to see two of the crown jewels of the Rockies: Lake Louise (I like Banff better; here think $$$$$) and Moraine Lake. On the way to Lake Louise, we encounter a 'bear jam' and stop briefly for a couple of pictures.

Enjoy a nice buffet lunch at the famou$ Chateau Lake Loui$e. Afterwards, a (very) few minutes are allowed to stroll the magnificent lakeshore and grounds of the Chateau. Back to the hotel about 3:30. This evening we are free to choose from many excellent (=$$$$) restaurants in town (anybody for burgers at the "American Embassy", a.k.a. McDonalds?). (B,L) The evening is cut a bit short as the showers (light so far) start. Unfortunately rain is forecast for the next three days but the forecast turns out to be only 1/3 right. Other than that extreme heat the first day, we've been pretty lucky.

Day 5, Wednesday, June 1 Banff to Jasper Via Icefields Parkway
Up early for breakfast at 6:30 to find that it's raining fairly heavily outside. It's NOT going to be a good day for photographs. Buffet breakfast this morning since today there's another large tour group (Japanese - look out and don't get trampled) in the hotel. Greg told us to have our bags ready inside our rooms at 7:15 but I see some out in the hall so put mine out. Those who left their bags in the rooms as they were instructed to do had to go back and set them out. On the bus at 8:15 but more like 8:30 due to the bag mix-up and the rain. Today travel one of the world's most awe-inspiring (if we could see much due to the rain and heavy clouds) highways - the Icefields Parkway to Jasper. Incredible scenery awaits us (if we could only see it); we should keep our cameras ready because moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and bears are occasional highway visitors in this area. We maybe see mountain goats - maybe - white specks high up on the hillside.

Lakes and glacier-topped mountains accompany us past Bow Lake and up to the summit of Bow Pass. Spectacular snow-patched peaks, waterfalls, lakes and rain clouds compete for our attention - Bow Lake, Crowfoot Glacier, and the Mistaya Valley. Stop at the pass to admire Peyto Lake (oops, the park service has it closed off), a jewel like glacial lake; to the north stretches the mountain-ringed Mistaya Valley. Crossing Saskatchewan River, prepare for the long climb to the summit of "the big hill". Here, cross from Banff National Park into Jasper National Park and view for the first time the awesome spectacle of the Columbia Icefield.

Stop near the gigantic Athabasca Glacier and experience the thrill of a SnoCoach ride on the 1000 foot thick ice. We start off in fairly heavy rain in a 'normal' bus with such crowded seating that it makes airline coach seating look luxurious. Luckily this only takes about 10 minutes. Then we transfer to the SnoCoach for the rest of the ride. The driver is also our 'guide' and does an excellent job with a running commentary/lecture. He also has a great sense of humor. By the time we get up on the glacier, the rain has mostly stopped and there are even a few snowflakes. We have about 20 minutes to get out, wander around, sample the glacier melt water (very flat, even more so than distilled water), and try a few pictures. However we still have fairly heavy clouds. It's nice, but definitely not anything like Antarctica. About the time we get back to the main lodge (via that mobile sardine can), it clears off a bit, briefly. Lunch is on our own in the lodge here. It's not bad, but sorta expensive.

Continuing north, pass along the base of the Endless Chain Range, see Mt. Edith Cavell to the west and stop to see the thundering Athabasca Falls (nice stop!). In Jasper, check into our hotel about 4 for a 2-night stay. Unfortunately there are four tour groups staying here, and three arrive about the same time - we are number three. Another group is already here. The only way to get luggage "before tomorrow" is to go back down to the lobby and get it ourselves. Hotel: Sawbridge Inn which is 'First Nations' owned. (2 nights) (B,D)

Due to the four tour groups, our group gets the 'short straw' and we are split up; we have a few tables at 6:30, a couple more at 7, and the last group at 8. At least the dinner is very good - order from menu arrangement. It's been a so-so day due to the weather, but at least Greg almost seems to be getting his act together - except for the bags hassle. Unfortunately the beds are again made of iron - extremely hard and it's for two nights. If only we were closer to "downtown" we could get out and see a few things.

Day 6, Thursday, June 2 Jasper at Leisure
Nice buffet breakfast this morning - and those other tour groups are checking out. Its cloudy, but no rain at present. Today is completely free to enjoy the wonderful (?) town of Jasper (it doesn't seem as interesting as Banff and is quite a walk back to town) and its surroundings. We finally learn that we will get something back for that night in Kamloops - arrangements were made for the local "Rocky Mountaineer" office to give Greg a cash refund - which he will use to pay for our optional Maligne Lake excursion. Since everyone is taking that option, it's a fair deal. Optional adventure excursions in the area are a raft ride (big rafts) on the Athabasca River (sounds good if it isn't raining) in the morning (9-11:30) with a chance to get a bit wet, and, after lunch (not included), a cruise to Spirit Island on nearby Maligne Lake (2:30-4). At this time of year Spirit Island isn't an island, jut a small peninsula to a larger island. The weather clears nicely for the cruise, but as we come back to Jasper, clouds move in again. At least we got the sunshine when we needed it, and also saw lots of wildlife: 1 bear in the trees; 1 bear right by the roadside, a whole herd of bighorn sheep, a couple of deer, another ram sheep trying to mooch food from the cars, and finally an elk grazing by the road.

This is a wonderful day of relaxation (?) and I have a chance to do some laundry between breakfast and the raft trip. When we get back to the hotel, none of our electronic room keys will work - someone on the staff had cancelled the wrong (tour group) set of keys. We all had to go down to the main desk and get new keys for the last night here. Dinner is on our own - and we are quite a bit out to the edge of town so it's either take a good long walk, eat ($$) in the hotel, or go hungry (or eat some snacks I had bought earlier). We again have to pack an overnight bag for the train trip since we won't see our main luggage again until Prince Rupert. It's a good thing I saw that one single line in the documentation. (B)

Day 7, Friday, June 3 Jasper to Prince George via The Skeena
We can have a lazy start to the day - just as well - there's no hot water. "The repairman has been called." Breakfast any time after 6:30, bags out at 8:30, check out of the hotel about 9:30, enjoy a one hour tour of the area getting out into the less developed areas just outside of town (very pretty, particularly the reflections in Patricia Lake), then back to wander around town for a while (our overnight/carry-on luggage can be on the bus until time for the train), and walk a couple of blocks to the rail station. Although the train is/was sitting on a siding when we get here at 9:30, we have to wait a while. It surely would have helped to have started earlier since as it turns out, it's more "WaitTrack." The train is lots shorter: 1 baggage car, one coach, our "deluxe" Panorama car, another coach, and a half-dome car. MUCH shorter. This afternoon (our documentation said morning) at 12:30 we board "The Skeena" train for a first-class, unforgettable two-day, daylight journey to the Pacific Northwest and fjord country. There's no telling as we leave when/if we will get our included lunch, but it turns out to be at about 1:30. Neither the service nor the beverages availability are anywhere near "Rocky Mountaineer" levels. We have both lunch and dinner on the train today, and all three meals tomorrow - and the meals made me slightly to significantly sick both days..

Advance word is that there is another big forest fire along our way to Prince George. I think I saw the smoke, but I/we didn't see any fire. We have a long way to go this afternoon. Traveling in VIA Rail's "Totem Deluxe" Class service, enjoy exclusive access to the Panorama Car (the a/c is working on this train) and its spacious comfortable seating - or would be spacious and comfortable if there was anywhere to put our carryon luggage. Since it's a panorama car with wrap-around windows, there are no overhead storage areas. These cars are fully glass-enclosed for best viewing - except - too bad that the windows are so heavily tinted, and fairly dirty, that photography can be pretty much forgotten. Later we find out what some of the 'dirt' is: pollen. At times the dandelion and thistle dust is so heavy that it looks like it is snowing. There's also the residue from the diesel smoke.

Follow the rails over Yellowhead Pass - and find that we are still on "WaitTrack." It seems that the train ahead of us is broken down, so its time to wait, and wait, and wait, and wait for about 1:20. When we finally get going again, we go past Mount Robson, partially visible in the clouds behind us, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. We now turn away from any mountains into the Rocky Mountain Trench as we continue down the western slope of the range with its giant cedars and hemlocks - lots of beautiful greenery, but only a few mountains with a bit of patchy snow to start with, then just forests. No wildlife to be seen. Cross British Columbia's interior plateau en route to Prince George, our overnight stop but we start to wonder if we will ever get there. Only 10 minutes short of the station, it's another 1:20 wait for a long freight train to get started up and past us. This is not good but at least not as bad as "DamnTrack" aka "MananaTrack" down in Mexico. We finally arrive at 9:10 (10:10 Jasper time) after a 9:20 trip, over 2:30 late. We never get to see anything of Prince George since we got in so late and also have an early departure tomorrow. It's almost exclusively a train and lumber town (4 paper/pulp mills) but it does have a small university.

Hotel: Coast Inn of the North. No a/c but the bed is nice. However, a malfunctioning fire alarm kept going off in the room two rooms down, not much chance for sleep. (B,L,D) The elevators in the hotel have a notice: "We are having intermittent problems with our elevators. If they stop or the doors won't open, turn the (power) switch off then turn it back on. This will usually correct the problem."

Day 8, Saturday, June 4 Prince George to Prince Rupert
Up at 6 for the bus at 7:15 to the train. But before then, walk a couple of blocks to "Tim Horton's" for breakfast (the best meal of these two days) at a reasonable time. Board at 7:30. A very poor breakfast is eventually served on the train about 8:20. Our rail journey on "WaitRail" continues today along the Skeena River Valley. Enjoy at-our-seat meal service and large reclining seats (which we can't recline due to all the luggage piled around) as scenic highlights along the route roll by (so says the brochure - but how does the scenery roll by; I thought it was the train that has the wheels that rolled). Bald eagles, black bears, moose and other wildlife are often (seldom is more like it or maybe 'almost never') spotted from the train in this very remote and beautiful area. We have another 40 minute wait at noon or maybe it's a 40 minute 'lunch stop' for the engineer. It's "in the middle of nowhere" and no other train to be seen before, during, or after. Maybe the engineer just wanted some "overtime."

The scenery continues to be mostly lots of tall green trees, rivers, and some farmland until about 5PM when we begin to get brief views (through the rare breaks in the trees) of the tops of the beautiful snow-patched mountains of the Coastal Range. We do continue to have lots of that "snow fall" which coats the windows and the overhead panels so good photographs are rarely possible. We do see a few eagles along the river as we get closer to Prince Rupert. They are there because of all the fishing in this area. We find out today that the other optional excursion, which will be out of Victoria, is "whale watching." Since I've seen whales on the Panama trip, on the Atlantic Canada trip, and lots on the Alaska trips, I pass on that. But can't Brennan come with something else. There has to be something more interesting to do in and around Victoria.

For the second night in a row, they serve "complimentary wine" with the dinner, but heaven help you if you want something else. They don't even offer water to those of us who don't drink alcoholic beverages. Discrimination! For that matter, when we were on the "Rocky Mountaineer" in their 2nd class coaches, we had free beverages (except alcoholic) all day while here in VIAs super-deluxe-coach anything except water (when offered), coffee, and the "complimentary" dinner wine (with free refills) are only available for extra $$$. The "Rocky Mountaineer" folks even give us a CD of the trip.

Arrive in Prince Rupert this evening (about an hour and a half late at 8:30) for a two-night stay in our guaranteed (really!) harbor view room. Located on Kaien Island at the mouth of the Skeena River and just 140 miles south of Ketchikan in Alaska, this port city is surrounded by beautiful wilderness. The hotel room is the smallest one yet (even smaller than that Accent Inn) and the bathroom is very cramped. The wrong luggage was delivered to my room but the problem was cleared up quickly. Again no a/c and if I open the windows, there's a very noisy restaurant just below. Not good. I give up and close the windows. Up about 2AM to open the windows but it doesn't help much. Crest Hotel (2 nights) (B,L,D on the train)

The weather so far has been generally quite good. The main disappointment is that due to the high trees and other foliage along the tracks and highways, we haven't had a much of a chance to see the mountains and other scenery. Also the food has usually made me somewhat sick. I'll skip all meals on trains from now on.

Day 9, Sunday, June 5 Prince Rupert Sightseeing
Up at 6, buffet breakfast at 7 (a bit limited but very good; understandable that it's limited since it's just for the 27 of us, and on the bus at 9. At least we won't have any more of that miserable train food. Oh-oh, about 8:05 it starts to rain. This morning take time to experience Prince Rupert with about an hour and a half bus tour of the town and the surrounding area. The city is surrounded by huge forest covered hills. Architectural styles blend harmoniously and the picturesque streets are adorned with reproductions of totem poles. Some of the homes on the outer drive with a view of the harbor can go for over CAN$750K. A couple of the owners (lawyers) have extremely steep driveways down from the street to their garage. Due to winter icing, they have heated driveways so they can get in and out without the risk of wrecking their car or house after a long slide.

Drive out just past Port Edward to learn about the canning industry at the Northern Pacific Cannery Village Museum. Neat place to visit - well worth it. It's beginning to clear and turn into a very nice day just as we leave the Cannery Museum. Back to the hotel about 1:30 after a bit more local touring. Later this afternoon enjoy free time to explore on our own including the "Cow Bay" area of shops - about a 25 minute walk to get there, but it's a nice day and 'time to burn.' The tour info pages say don't miss the local Upper British Columbia / Native Heritage museum with its excellent display of totem poles dating back hundreds of years. It's almost next door to the hotel and where I had planned to spend the afternoon and maybe do some gift shopping. Too bad it's closed on Sundays and Mondays. Greg suggests that we do some shopping at Safeway across the street from the hotel for onboard munchies for tomorrow rather than pay ferry prices for junk food. (B,D)

Day 10, Monday, June 6 Prince Rupert - Port Hardy via BC Ferries
Up at 4:15 to have bags out at 5:00. Short buffet breakfast at 5:30 specially set up for us, then on the bus at 6. Boarding at 6:20 (oops, more wrong info - its board at 7) and depart at 7:30 for a 15 hour trip. We have reserved seating allowing for time to explore the ship without loosing our seat. We are 'walk on' passengers. Now if only our useless Brennan Tour Director can figure out how to use the card key so we can get into our assigned seats - no luck - he has to ask for help.

We will get a new bus and driver (our third) in Port Hardy.

Depart Prince Rupert and cruise southward aboard a B.C. Ferry through the awe-inspiring Inside Passage, a natural marine highway. This 15-hour journey takes us past spectacular coastal rainforests and majestic coastal mountains. Too bad that its very overcast, gloomy, and occasional light rain showers. The entire day will be rich (not) with marine life, humpback whales (2), porpoises (0) and sea lions (0). The ship offers open-air decks for sunning (not in this weather and wind) and viewing of lots of islands covered with tall green trees. It clears later in the day but by then its beginning to get dark. We are scheduled to arrive in Port Hardy at 10:30 p.m. and are right on schedule.

Since we arrive so late at the hotel - its 11:30 before we are in our room with luggage, I wonder if we can get the hotel to charge us by the hour. It should be cheaper that way. The 'busboys' are two teen-age high-school young ladies (working very late!). Since some of the luggage has gotten quite heavy (not mine - I've bought very little) it is quite a struggle for them. Hotel: Glen Lyon Inn. (B) Not a bad hotel - very decent room and quick friendly service. It definitely reminds me of Petersburg, Alaska. Still no a/c but that's no problem, just open the window (French doors opening onto a small balcony) and get under the covers. This is my second favorite (maybe favorite) hotel. The people here are great.

Day 11, Tuesday, June 7 Port Hardy to Victoria
Up at 6, breakfast at 6:30 at "Babe's" next door - from a limited (by Brennan) menu with just 3 choices: Eggs etc., French toast etc., and Pancakes, etc., but very good with plenty to eat; bags out at 7. It's the same high school young ladies having their struggle - it's good that there are only 30 bags instead of over 50; at one point one of the overloaded luggage carts tips over almost burying the young lady trying to unload it at the bus. Off at 8; Victoria awaits!

Enjoy a beautiful drive south by coach along the Queen Charlotte Strait and the Strait of Georgia. Stop at Campbell River for lunch (not included) It's "Wacko Taco" for me - it's not $$ and also not one of the 'fast food joints' since there's the usual full selection here). We have some time to explore part of the town including their very nice waterfront park. From there we take the 'old road' (Hooray! It's much more interesting!) passing through Courtenay and down to Chemainus where we also stop to see many of the artistic murals that various artists have painted on the buildings. The town has become 'famous' for these murals. Very nice. Back on the main road, we continue south to arrive in the charming British "Garden City" of Victoria about 5:30, just a bit later than planned.

Check into the hotel for a relaxing two-night stay. This evening is free to enjoy one of Victoria's many wonderful ($$) restaurants and the lively waterfront. I settle for a walk around and then back to the hotel. I've already had enough to eat today thanks to that huge breakfast. Hotel: Grand Pacific. (2 nights) (B) This is definitely a 5-star hotel but I still like the one in Banff better. This one is just too modern and doesn't give any special feel to staying here. I have a very nice corner room with a view in two directions and a small balcony but its on the back side of the hotel so my views are of other hotels and parking lots (the a/c works but its another hard bed) and not too many blocks to walk (about 10-15 minutes each way) to the inner harbor part of town. (The front side of the hotel looks right out over the harbor. But Brennan was too cheap to request those rooms - all Brennan people are on the back or side of the hotel with no view of the harbor at all.) Too bad it doesn't stay light here as late as it did in Jasper, Prince George, and Prince Rupert so we would have more time to explore. However with the current high winds, I wait since we have all tomorrow afternoon. I'm glad we spent extra time sightseeing off-the-main-road places on our drive down. It's been a great day - one of the best of the trip.

(All hotels and motels are required by law to have instructions for fire emergencies posted on the inside of the door to the room. Here they also have instructions in case of earthquakes. I didn't notice about the other hotels we have been in.)

Day 12, Wednesday, June 8 Victoria Sightseeing
Rain was forecast for the evening and overnight and this time the forecast was right. Its cold, windy, and a there is a light rain this morning. Victoria averages less than 25" of rain a year and almost none this time of year, but they are getting it now. Up at 6 for breakfast at 6:30 (excellent). This hotel doesn't have any special "character" but the room and meals are great.

After breakfast, discover British Columbia's capital with a city tour, including the Inner Harbor (well, we pass it ). Greg's wife Mimi joins us today for the tour. They live not far from Victoria. Our first stop at 9 is a visit to the world famous Butchart Gardens. This estate offers more than 700 varieties of flowers on 130 acres and includes Italian, Japanese and English-style gardens. We have a light misting drizzle the whole time. Beautiful gardens anyway. Head for the exit a bit early when we get invaded by a hoard of Japanese (after getting shoved off the path and knocked down by a bunch of them).

Then it's our city tour going particularly through the very nice ($-$$$) residential areas on the south side of town; it's not a "city" tour as usually thought of. As we drive along the coast, normally we could see the islands and even across the Strait to the Coastal Mountains, but not today - just a lot of grayness out there; nothing visible at all. We get back to the hotel about 12:45. The afternoon is free to do as we please. Perhaps stroll around the Parliament Building (in the rain??), or shop among the many ($$) stores (no thanks). I make a quick walk around the inner harbor area, then visit the Royal British Columbia Museum using our "included pass" (so it says the Brendan information packet) but since Brennan is too cheap to actually include it, I have to pay my own way in. It's a fantastic museum rated second only to the Smithsonian and I believe it. Tonight is a Farewell (to) Steak Dinner at the hotel so we don't have to go out in the weather. The dinner turns out to be one of the poorest of the trip. Soup and salad very poor, steak good but undercooked, desert only fair. Too bad. (B,D)

Day 13, Thursday, June 9 Victoria to Vancouver - Houston
Get up at 5:45. Time for bags out and breakfast at 6:30; on the bus at 7:30. We have to be at the ferry terminal by 8:15 even though the ferry doesn't leave until 9. The weather is dull and overcast so I go ahead and pack my camera. At least it isn't raining. This morning travel via BC ferry (our bus goes with us this time) for a memorable cruise (only 1:40) through the Gulf Islands to Vancouver. Our tour ends at the Airport (at least no problem with getting a taxi or the "Airporter") with again no time to see anything of Vancouver so I'm glad I got to see some of it when I was here in 2000. Arrival time at the airport is supposed to be a bit before noon. We were told to schedule flights after 2:00 p.m. At least we can go through US Customs/Immigration here and not try to crowd it into the one hour in Phoenix. (B)

3America West HP0759Vancouver - Phoenix1:59 PM - 5:14 PM3:15
4America West HP0277Phoenix - Houston6:12 PM - 10:54 PM2:32)6:55

I doubt that we will get anything but micro-snacks on either flight (we didn't); the first gets in before 6 and the second is less than 3 hours and we didn't get anything significant on either flight on the way to Vancouver. At least the flights were on time.

Day 14, Friday, June 10 Home
Late arrival home - glad I've got the car here at the airport so I'm not faced with long delays or expensive taxi fare the whole way. Thanks to quick baggage delivery and perfect timing for the parking shuttle, home a bit earlier than expected: finally home at 12:15 AM. Big temperature change: it was 55 "yesterday" morning; 78 as I get home.

Selected pictures
Click to enlarge

1America West HP0765Houston - Phoenix8:20 AM - 9:20 AM3:000:50
2America West HP0506Phoenix - Vancouver10:10 AM - 1:26 PM3:167:06
3America West HP0759Vancouver - Phoenix1:59 PM - 5:14 PM3:15
4America West HP0277Phoenix - Houston6:12 PM - 10:54 PM2:32)6:55

Meals included (Brennan offers 3 meals less than Brendan shows - 'cheapskates'):
Breakfasts: 12 of 12; Lunch: 6 of 13; Dinner: 7 of 13. (Purchase: 0, 7, 6)

May 28. Vancouver Metropolitan Hotel (SF)
May 29. Kamloops Accent Inn minus 3* ranking
May 30-31 Banff Royal Canadian Lodge (SF)
Wed June 1-2. Jasper Sawbridge Inn (SF)
June 3. Prince George Coast Inn of the North (F)
June 4-5. Prince Rupert Crest Hotel (SF)
June 6. Port Hardy Glen Lyon Inn (F)
June 7-8. Victoria Hotel Grand Pacific (SF)