Robert H. (Bob) Jackson, Jr.
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I'm a very picky vacation connoisseur. Vacations, to me, are opportunities to explore. And relax. O.K., and to eat things my doctor would kill me for...

With that in mind, I figured I'd share a bit of my vacation travels. And give lots of unsolicited travel advice.

Western Canada

Vacations in Western Canada - with highlights of a railroad-based tour via the Rocky Mountaineer

Seattle, Washington

US tourists may begin their journey to western Canada by using Seattle, Washington as a gateway to Vancouver, Canada. I chose to fly to Seattle, and take Amtrak to Vancouver to begin my 2006 summer vacation.

Seattle’s King Street Rail Station, just south of city center, is undergoing a renovation to restore the architectural heritage of this station designed by the same architectural firm as Grand Central in New York. Stripping away well intentioned generations of “improvements” such as Formica and suspended ceilings covering beautiful plaster decorated features, the station is slowly returning to much of it’s earlier elegance. The relatively small but stylish main entryway features a striking compass inlay on the floor. 

Seattle, Washington to Vancouver, Canada by rail.

Leaving the station (on what was the Amtrak 510 from Seattle to Vancouver Canada in 2006) the train, passes Pike’s Peak market and quickly exist the city, hugging the shoreline offering uninterrupted views of the Cascades to the left of the train’s forward motion. (Ask for a “Water Side Seat” at seat selection time). The water side scenery offers striking views of marinas, pleasure craft and hints of mountain ranges in the distance. As the train literally rides a few yards above the surf’s edge, you are treated to views of the evergreen, hilly curves ahead with cottage style homes clinging to their sides. You’ll likely make a mental note to see how much these houses with jaw dropping views might cost as a retirement getaway.

The 510 Cascade Train offers both standard coach class and a slightly more comfortable business class with a bit more legroom. The single-level cars are single aisle plans, with some chairs facing each other but most facing forward in the direction of the train’s motion.  120V electrical outlets are available at your feet.

Both a sit-down dining car and an adjacent “Bistro” (aka snack car) provide continuous food service. You may need to sign a waiting list to get seating at the dining car. Prices are reasonable. Food selection varies but tends to be very limited. 

After passing through a tunnel immediately before Everett Washington, the landscape changes to a combination of inland and water views. Through towns and farmland, the ride shows a peaceful, quiet but evergreen side of Washington state.

In July 2006, the Cascades 510 departed Seattle at 7:40 am arriving in Vancouver at 11:30am. The ride was comfortable and interesting, featuring diverse relaxing scenery, bright sunshine, hazy blue skies on a day with 70ish temps. Between Everett and Vancouver, a short family-friendly movie was presented on small, in-car TV overhead screens. You need standard headphones (like those used on Ipods) that plug in on armrests like airline seat versions or you can buy headphones from the attendants.

Be careful on the water side if you are traveling with children in the summer. The isolated beaches occasionally attract nude sunbathers.

Vancouver, Canada

If you are looking for good food in Vancouver, try the

bulletThe Five Sails Restaurant at the Pan Pacific Hotel
bulletFish House in Stanley Park
bulletBridges Restaurant on Granville Island
bulletFeenies & Lumiere on Broadway
 

Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge - Old Lodge Road, Jasper, Alberta, Canada  T0E1E0  Phone: 780-852-3301, email: jasperparklodge@fairmont.com

A beautiful yet simple resort just outside the very small, near-alpine town of Jasper, Alberta, Canada. Originally a tent-camp, it was taken over by the railroad in the early 1900’s and is now a series of clustered non-air-conditioned cabins arranged around a modest central lodge. Within the lodge are several restaurants.

  1. Generally, the most casual of the three, "The Emerald" utilizes a small indoor space and tables on a stone terrace commanding a majestic view of the nearby turquoise blue lake.
  2. I enjoyed an upscale dinner at “The Moose’s Nook Northern Grill”, an establishment specializing in offbeat foods sure to please carnivores. Rabbit, deer, bison and grouse were on the menu during my July 2006 visit.
  3. The Edith Cavell - a 4 Diamond Restaurant - I didn't try this experience during my stay, but it looked like very nice upscale dining

The town of Jasper itself is small; supporting 5000 year round residents, most of whom support themselves by providing goods or services to more than 5 million visitors annually. Jasper’s downtown is easily walked in a few hours and features dining, Souvenir shopping, and very little else. From Jasper’s sidewalks, you are surrounded by regal mountains and spectacular scenery.

Athabasca Parkway connects Jasper to Lake Louise via alpine roadway. Jaw dropping scenery, waterfalls, glaciers and snow-touched mountains nested in evergreens paint a palette of stunning natural landscapes. Midsummer attracts bicyclists and motorcyclists who travel in a separate adjacent lane.

Lake Louise

At the southern end of the Parkway is the very small community of Lake Louise. Comprised only of a small strip shopping center, a cluster of small but nicely maintained lodges, the signature feature is a large, elegant 8 story hotel ( Fairmont’s Chateau Lake Louise) sitting proudly on the shores of turquoise blue Lake Louise sitting at the foot of Victoria Glacier in a V shaped alpine canyon. Although the front entrance and foyer of this grand hotel is impressive, nothing competes with the “Chateau’s Back Porch”: an awe inspiring view of the pristine lake and the rugged mountains embracing it.

A small boathouse on the left side of the Chateau’s view provides canoe rentals. A series of hiking trails sprouts from the other side providing a choice of hiking destinations and trail difficulties.

Within the Chateau Lake Louise Hotel are several dining opportunities, including the Victoria restaurant with tall arched windows overlooking the lake.

 

Banff

A short drive down the Trans Canada highway from Lake Louise (this section under development)

 

Top Tips:

bulletCanadian temperature is given in Centigrade. For those of us used to Fahrenheit, this can be maddening. Especially if you, like me, find it hard to remember the conversion formula. The precise formula is F = c times 9/5 plus 32. But a easier to calculate (though less precise form) is: Centigrade = (F times two) +28
bulletCanadians, particularly those living outside the stress of the big cities, are a friendly unpretentious lot. Smile. Speak to them. Ask for directions if you are lost.

 

Top Tips for booking your Rocky Mountaineer Vacation

bulletThe RM brochure lists very specific itineraries. You can customize your trip by adding days at each stop (subject to RM’s group transportation options which are not always daily scheduled.)
bulletKamloops, the halfway point of the train trip between Vancouver and the rest of the rail trip is a modest comfortable modern town. Rocky Mountain Tours has created some overnight entertainment opportunities, but be careful not to compare this experience to the high end hotels in other parts of the tour.

 

TBD