Another year, and another exciting Great Rail Journeys trip for us. These trip are addictive- the minute we land from one, we can’t stop ourselves obsessively flicking through the next years brochure, pausing to number crunch- can we afford it? Before taking the plunge and booking it, taking advantage of GRJ’s low deposits. The longer we can pay chunks of the balance off over, the better.
After months and months of hard saving, firstly for the trip itself and then enough spending money for us to do everything that we want whilst in the trip, the time finally came for us to pack our bags, wrap up all our work affairs and turn that out of office on. Canada and Alaska – we are on our way.
When we booked our airport parking and hotel, we realised the parking began at 00.30 so we decided to use this as an opportunity for a pre holiday London day. Coincidentally at the same time, Keith discovered a Stanley Kubrick exhibition that was on, and as a huge film fan, wasted no time in booking our tickets.
Goodbyes were said to Jazz the dog, and Mum who has kindly moved into our house whilst we are away to dog sit, and by 07:30 Wednesday, we were on our way.
Check in at London Heathrow’s Renaissance Hotel was quick and easy. Parking is on site and we take our keys so no worries about someone else driving Ruby. And a bonus was that despite arriving at 10:15, our room was already ready, so we dumped our cases, made use of the in room safe and grabbed the free public bus to Heathrow Bus station where we jumped on the next Piccadilly line train to South Kensington.
No trip to Heathrow for us is complete without a beer at The Hoop and Toy, South Kensington followed by a meal at the wonderful Pierino’s.
We then had a brisk half an hour walk off of the carbs to London Design Museum, home to the Stanley Kubrick exhibition this summer.
Keith was bouncing off the walls. I must admit, I’ve only seen 3 of his films; Barry Lyndon, Eyes Wide Shut and Full Metal Jacket- all of which I enjoyed. From the moment we stepped inside we were treated to an enormous collection of Stanley Kubrick’s personal items on display including an Oscar, his editing desk and lots of original film costumes, including Laurence Olivier’s costume in Spartacus, the Venetian Masks from Eyes Wide Shut and most notably, the creepy twins dresses from The Shining.
After the exhibition, Keith was quite emotional – to say he (and I) enjoyed it was an understatement and if you have any interest in Kubrick films I highly recommend a visit.
We made our way to Chinatown for some dim-sung before a beer on the Thames at The Tattishall Castle boat pub before making our way back to the hotel at Heathrow. A cracking day in London.
For once, we didn’t have to set our alarms at an antisocial time! Our Air Canada flight departures at 13:05 so our check in time was 10 ish.
Before that, we had the exciting meet and greet with our Great Rail Journeys tour manager. As with all their tours, throughout our holiday we will have the company of 30 or so travelling companions, led by one of their tour managers, who we meet in Heathrow and stays with us throughout the trip- his job is to guide us, help us get the absolute maximum from our trip, and hold our hand throughout.
After a quick chat with Alex Green, our TM, we checked in our baggage and headed through security with a couple of hours to enjoy Heathrow’s Terminal 2.
Our Air Canada flight was on time, and really a rather pleasant 8.5 hour flight on their Dreamliner before touchdown at Calgary, Canada at around 14:45 local time. We flew right over Greenland and got an amazing view of the mountains.
Calgary is currently hosting its Stampede, famous fortnight of events such as rodeos and horse cart racing. As such, the captain treated us to a massive “Yeee haaaa” just before landing, and the airport is full of people in cowboy hats and boots. Before we’d got out of the airport Keith had made friends with the locals!
Sadly we were not staying in Calgary to witness Stampede events, our coach transfer to Banff awaited. The trip took around 90 minutes and it didn’t take long for the open fields to turn into ski slopes, toboggan runs and then into huge dramatic, snow capped mountains.
Our hotel, The Banff Ptarmigan Inn, was situated right on the Main Street so after a quick check in, we jumped into the shower, changed and went straight out again. Evenings are free time away from the group- a perfect mix of having a tour group but having alone time too.
Despite being up for almost 20 hours, we were a little tired but wanted to make it to 9.30pm in an effort to beat the jet lag. We enjoyed our first Canadian lager- Kokanee lager- in the hotel bar, before taking a wander down the high street to find a suitable dinner place.
Banff is full of restaurants of all different cuisines and gift shops. The buildings are cute wooden chalets and the backdrop is stunning mountains. We were lucky, the sky was a picture perfect blue sky.
We opted for burgers at Eddie’s Burger bar- a long standing burger joint which is very popular and as such we waited across the road at The Rose and Crown Tavern whilst a table became available. This was the perfect time to sample my first Canadian Gin – distilled across the road, The Park Gin was nice and smooth. Keith had a Keith lager!
We enjoyed our “ Rocky Mountain burger” – an elk patty with jack cheese and onions etc- it was gorgeous and had a great chat with the really friendly bar men. Clearly they love where they live and work, and although we’ve only been here for a couple of hours, we can wholeheartedly see why.
We made it until 9:30pm – before caving in and hitting the sack. Tomorrow we’ve got a full days itinerary- let’s see what time we wake up!