We booked our flights economy through Opodo but we find ourselves flying home Air Canada on the very latest Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Everything state of the art, including a USB outlet for me to keep this phone charged and me writing the whole way (if I completely lose my senses). Best of all, we have three seats for the two of us!
This is only the latest example of how this trip has been an amazing exploitation of advanced technology from start to finish. I mentioned this to the reception manager at the Lake Louise Inn as we checked out this morning, showing him this Nexus 5 smartphone and saying how it had been our best friend, and he agreed how wonderful it is – until it stops working. If their computer goes down they can’t even open the rooms because the keys don’t work.
I do have some technical experience to share if anyone is contemplating a trip of this kind, but it would be extremely boring to anyone who isn’t, so I am making that a separate post immediately after this one.
The journey home
With plenty of time for our journey to Calgary airport we quickly turned off the Trans Canada Highway…
… onto the smaller and more beautiful Bow Valley Parkway
where we were advised we were more likely to see wildlife. And we did:
We stopped at Banf for lunch, some final presents, and a visit to the Museum of the Canadian Rockies. Where we learned that Swiss Mountain Guides (in full traditional costume) opened up the tourist trade in the Rockies in the late 19th Century. Leading hundreds of first ascents and innumerable lesser climbs, they continued for fifty years, without a single fatality.
We also learned that of Canada’s total population of 8 million, 650,000 soldiers and 2,854 nursing sisters were recruited for the First World War, with the loss of 60,661 soldiers and 21 nurses.
Pressing on on the Trans Canada Highway we finally diverged from the Rockies and saw them diminish into the distance on our right hand side.
and followed the trusty sat-nav towards Calgary eventually skirting to its North (passing the Winter Olympic Centre and Eddie the Eagle’s ski jump) and, after filling the tank with petrol for the usual trivial amount, drove straight to the well-posted rental car return centre in the airport.
As always we were in plenty of time, but we eventually took our seats in the beautiful new airliner and settled in for a comfortable, and relatively short (7½ hours) flight.
When we arrived at Heathrow a daughter and a granddaughter were there to greet us and drive us home. Rounding off perfectly what really does qualify for us as the holiday of a lifetime.
Here are a few random thoughts about our experiences.
Everyone drives with headlights on in both countries. This must be recent and it doesn’t seem to be the law, there were notices as we came out of tunnels saying “check your lights”. Interesting.
The differences between Canada and USA were subtle but very definite. Not just the money and measuring distances in kilometres in Canada (although not always – the mileposts on the railway through the Rockies were just that – mileposts). For some reason Canada felt much more familiar, more homely. Softer. In comparison America seemed angular and even brutal. Those endless miles of concrete roads with no apparent attempt to meld them with the landscape, massive traffic thundering endlessly in both directions. An almost total apparent disregard for sustainability.
We failed to engage people in conversation about Trump. Perhaps the people we met were embarrassed by the whole bewildering affair. Equally, we did not encounter overt prejudice or outrageous views of any kind, as previous visitors had reported, and nor did we see the kind of grotesque obesity that we had gained the impression was almost the norm in Las Vegas. We did see a few very overweight people, but the vast majority were similarly built to people at home. We saw a lot of tattoos, but again that was rather similar to home. There were a lot of mobility scooters, but in Las Vegas those were sometimes hired by apparently fit people, just to get about.
Booking.com and Opodo did us proud and there was not a single glitch in our entire self-organised itinerary. The Booking.com website was an absolute joy to use to plan the holiday (so they can please stop asking us for feedback to say so) and the emailed confirmation of each booking during the day before you arrived was great. But Opodo’s practice of booking you a return flight (because it works out cheaper) and then cancelling the return as soon as you are in the air, is unsettling. Surely there must be a simpler way than sending you notices about flights you are never going to take.
As for American television and radio – what can I say? Every hotel room was dominated by a huge, black TV screen- and if you had a suite there was one in the bedroom too. But we found almost nothing to watch and soon gave up even switching them on. If you did click through the different channels it was hard to tell whether you were looking at the subject matter itself or one of the constant, strident, inane advertisement interruptions. We found no kind of index or guide. Even the picture quality seemed surprisingly poor compared with British HD television. The right-wing politicians in Britain who never cease working to undermine the BBC in favour of a more American style advertisement-funded broadcasting, presumably to please their friends and backers in commerce, if they have any experience of this appalling reality, are guilty of a level of philistinism which is entirely beyond my comprehension. And, sad to say, we found little difference between America and Canada in this respect.
Radio wasn’t good either. But that was more because over the distances and remote areas we travelled the coverage was understandably poor. The content on many of the stations included religious messages of an evangelical character for various denominations. Once, when we found ourselves listening to a serious discussion programme during a period of clear reception, we found it extremely impressive. It dealt with an important subject in depth and at length (I will edit this to say what the subject was when we have remembered!). It was branded as some person’s ‘show’, but eloquent experts were interviewed in an admirably balanced way and given time to express themselves in detail. So it can work!
And health. Because that is my subject and I am so passionate about the British NHS. We returned having had no problems that required help, so we did not have to cll on our insurance. Lesley caught a cold towards the end but made very little of it, and I had congested ears which was trying, but nothing serious. What would have happened if Lesley had broken something when she fell, an hour’s walk above Lake Louise, gave us pause for midnight thought. I think there would have been a lot of willing help from fellow walkers, but I also think helicopters and a very large bills. But that didn;t happen.
What did happen was couple of conversations with Americans who told us of the omnipresent cloud on their lives cast by the cost of medicine, and fears about whether insurance would pay for certain treatments, and the non-availability of others. Their envy of our NHS was complete and awe-struck and when we said that some British politicians were against the whole concept they simply said that they were mad. That is what we think as well.
Finally, impressions on getting back to England: Incredibly green. Trees and hedges and grass in luxuriant growth everywhere. Crowded roads, everything on a smaller scale, narrower lanes, narrower central reservations. Massive investment in traffic marshalling cones, temporary barriers and signage at roadworks – totally unlike the casual arrangements we saw, especially in Canada. Overall a great feeling of familiarity.
We have been to two wonderful countries and seen so many fabulous places and met so many lovely people, but we are left with a feeling that we have a great deal to be proud of here, and it is lovely to be home.