Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cross Canada Trip - Day Eight – Jasper National Park

Previous Post: Cross Canada Trip - Day Seven – Banff National Park
After a long day in Banff national park (arrived around 10PM to the hotel), today we are going to explore Jasper; It is the largest park in the Rocky Mountain region and less crowded than nearby Banff. It is a bit colder as well, but hey, you are in Canada...
We have stayed at the The Best Western Jasper Inn & Suites hotel which is not far from the main road. Having said that, Jasper is small enough to have everything close enough to the main road. Since I woke up earlier than the rest, I went to a nearby Robinson's Good Food Naturally store to get some groceries for the breakfast and to the rest of the day. Do not forget, breakfast is the most important meal of the day...
The rest of the day was as following:
  • Mount Edith Cavell (30km from Jasper) – Fantastic! Absolutely stunning place! It is a bit difficult drive to the parking but well worth it; When we got there, around 11AM, it was cold and snowing! I guess T-shirt and a jacket is not a proper wear for mountains. The walk itself is quite easy (the more difficult path was closed due to the weather) and you can see hanging glaciers and alpine meadows. We were brave enough to drink from the mountain river which is basically melted ice...
  • Athabasca Falls (30 km from Jasper) – 23 meter waterfall, considered the be the most powerful in the park.
  • Maligne Canyon (10km from Jasper) – On the northern end of the Maligne Valle, there is a very (50 meters) deep canyon. The name is derived from the French "mal" to infer sick, or evil as in "malicious". It is incredibly narrow and has confounded geologists for many years ( If you get there, there are nearby Medicine Lake and Maligne Lake to explore.
  • Miette Hot Springs (60km from Jasper) – Two hop pools with the hottest mineral springs in the Canadian Rockies – fantastic end for a day. The entrance fee is about 6$ and you can stay for up to two hours (which is more than enough). Don't forget to bring your own towel, slippers and bathing suit (renting those is quite expensive).
That is it for today. Check out the photo album at

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Cross Canada Trip - Day Seven – Banff National Park

Lake Louise
Previous Post: Cross Canada Trip - Day Six – Calgary
National parks in Rockies are amazing in beauty! Just to drive on scenic Icefields Parkway (93) is a fantastic experience. I consider this to be the best part of our trip and our only mistake was to make it as short as 3 days (actually, not even 3 full days).
One a first day, we covered Banff National Park. It takes about 1 hour to drive from Calgary to the Town of Banff. It is a very small town (population of 8721) but has all the essential services (post office, restaurants, groceries, etc). From there, we planned our day based on recommendations in AA Canada KeyGuide and Mountain Guide (free guide with maps and a lot of useful information).

From there, we drove to:

  • Johnstop Canyon (about 25 km from Banff) - Trail and catwalks which take you to a Lower (1.1km) and Upper (2.7km) falls.
  • Lake Louise and Lake Agnes (about 55km from Banff) – Fantastic, if a bit difficult, trail (3.8km) which takes you to a Tea House at Lake Agnes high above Lake Louise. To get there, park at Lake Louise parking area and walk along the lake shore promenade for about 1.2 km. Take the right fork (it is signed) which climbs immediately from the water edge. After 2km, you will reach a tiny plateau where you can pause to admire Mirror Lake (small lake trapped in the mountains and surrounded by rocks and huge trees). Another 1km up will take you to a Tea House at Lake Agnes.
  • Crowfoot Glacier (25km from Lake Louise) – A short hike (10 minutes) from a parking area on the Icefield Parkway for a magnificent view of the Crowfoot glacier. According to the Mountain Guide, it used to have 3 ‘toes’ of ice but since then the lower toe and part of the middle one have melted back.
  • Mistaya Canyon (72km from Lake Louise) – Only 10 minutes walk from the parking area takes you through rounded potholes and natural arches on the canyon walls.
From there, we continued straight to Jasper only stopping at Saskatchewan Crossing (77km from Lake Louise) to refuel and buy some food (we still had those 5kg of sausages), and rest points along the Icefield Parkway to stretch our legs.
You can see all the photos at

Travellers Tips:

  • Entrance to Jasper, Banff, Kootenay and Yoho requires a pass; daily pass cost $9.80 for an adult. Do not forget to take a Mountain Guide which is full with useful maps and a lot of information.
  • Saskatchewan Crossing (77km from Lake Louise) is the last fuel station until Jasper.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cross Canada Trip - Day Six – Calgary

Morning flight to Calgary was flawless. Air Canada has surprisingly new and renovated fleet; all the airplanes are clean, comfortable and each passenger has individual TV screen. I have passed the four hours flight by watching a Pink Panther 2 and playing GTA Miami Vice (yeah!).
At the airport, we rented a car with Hertz for a following week (that's it, our "green" credentials will never be the same) and drove to the city.
First things you notice about Calgary are the vastness of the city and the lack of people on the street; at first it feels like a ghost town. After checking in into Ramada Limited hotel (although I strongly believe it should be called motel), we went to explore the city. Compare to London (and even Toronto), the streets are amazingly wide; five lanes in each direction and that was not a cross country highway. I think people here have no idea how to spell “traffic jam”. We went to a Glenbow Museum to see a collection of Canadian art and exhibition dedicated to the First Nation people. Later, my mom joined us (straight from Miami) for the rest of the trip. After picking her up from the Calgary Airport, we (now three of us) tried the same trick as with CN Tower in Toronto: free observation from Calgary Tower (even the restaurant name is the same as in Toronto).
Check out the Calgary’s photo album at


Travellers Tips:
  • You can get a segnificant discount on a car rental quote by using 'Counter Discount Programme' or 'CDP'.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Cross Canada Trip - Day Four and Five - The French Province

Quebec City, Quebec
Previous Post: Cross Canada Trip - Day Three – Niagara Falls
9 AM VIA train from Union station is how our French adventure starts. Five hours later we are in Montreal. The journey itself had nothing to write about; the trains in Europe are faster and better equipped.
We have stayed at Glamour Suits and Apartments hotel. It is a chick hotel in Parisian style right in the city centre. That day, we took a walk through older parts of Montreal (mainly for Notre Dame de Montreal) and Port Viex (lakeside park and recreation centre). The city is a strange mixture of “old world” and “new world”: the roads are wide, the buildings (downtown) are tall but the attitude on the other hand is definitely European.
The next day (this is our sixth day in Canada) we paid a quick visit to Biodome and after that took a bus ( to Quebec City. According to the local guide, it is where Canada was established by Samuel de Champlain, a French merchant. The old city managed to retain its unique style and charm, and it is the only walled city in the North America. The must visit places are:
  • Notre Dame de Quebec
  • Palace d’Armes
  • Governors Wall (promenade)
  • The Citadel
  • Fortifications (you can walk on the walls!)
  • Parc d’Artilleries

The city is full of small coffee places, restaurants, boutiques and historic building (with absolutely amazing architecture). We stopped to eat at Au Petit Coin Breton (1029 rue St-Jean, Quebec city) where they have 60 different kinds of creeps. The food was delicious! The cheese filling I had was melting in my mouth.

Check out our photo albums
That is it for now....

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Cross Canada Trip - Day Three – Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls
Previous Post: Cross Canada Trip - Day Two – Toronto
Today, the day started with the usual pancake breakfast and we were ready to start our Niagara Falls adventure. We have booked with Magic Bus company through our hotel because... well, it was cheaper than others. That day we met John from Chicago who stayed in the Canadiana Backpackers Inn and joined the Niagara Falls trip. The drive to the falls takes about 1 and a half hours and there is nothing spectacular along the way. We passed Mississauga, Oakville, Burlington and Hamilton before reaching the Niagara Falls city.
First, we boarded “Maid of the Mist” boat which took us closer to both American and Canadian (much prettier) falls. You can summarise the whole experience as “getting wet”; although we were given ponchos, everything that was not properly covert got really wet. We spend another two hours in the Niagara Fall city (had too) which is another soulless breed between cheap restaurants, wax museums and amusement park.
After all boarded the bus, we drove through a Niagara Falls parkway to a Niagara on the Lake. It is a traditional town that kept the 1900 look and feel: no chain shops are allowed, no large vehicles drive through and all the signs written using old style. It is considered to be the prettiest town in Canada! As to the parkway itself, Winston Churchill said that driving through Niagara Parkway is the best Sunday drive ever.
Our last stop with Magic Bus was the “20 Bees” vinery for a wine tasting. The pinnacle of it was the ice wine. There are only 20 places on earth suitable to produce ice wine and Canada producing 80% of all. The process (in the nut shell) is to leave the grapes on the vine till January when temperatures are between -15 and -20 Celsius when the water in the grape freezes and when crushed it leaves pure concentrated grape juice. It takes 15 times more grapes to produce the same quantity of wine, which explains the price: average bottle of white ice wine cost around $50. The wine itself is very sweet and usually served as a desert.
Two hours after, when finally in Toronto, we went to meet the “family”: apparently, there are quite a few Markhs living in Toronto. After being dined and wined, and given 5kg (I kid you not) of different types of sausages and meats (those guys are running a very successful sausages business) we ended up having a drink in the Yorkville with our cousin Sarah and her friend.
Tomorrow, Montreal!

Travellers Tips:

  • Shop around for the best deal (We paid $45 plus £13.5 for Maid of the Mist).

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cross Canada Trip - Day Two – Toronto

Previous Post: Canada - First Impression

Today, we had major plans and that did not includ taking over the world (at this point, you should imagine an evil “muwhaa muwhaa muwhaa”).

Our morning started with “eat as much as you can” pancakes with maple syrup: SUPERB! When we finally managed to pull ourselves from the dining table, we went to a China town and Kensington market ( Between those two, you can fine absolutely anything you can imagine (go ahead, let your imagination fly). Since the weather was fantastic (25C with clear skies) and we had some time to kill (read on), we went through the University of Toronto to a Queens Park Circle (the university is really impressive, well worth the visit) and down the University avenue to the CN Tower ( - did you know that it is the tallest free standing structure in the world? As advised in our “Canada” guide, we have booked a table in the 360⁰ restaurant located 351m above the ground in order to escape the queues and save $21.99 (each). During the day, the food is reasonably prices considering the location, atmosphere (the restaurant is constantly rotates around the core completing the circle in 72 minutes and where else could you eat that high above the ground?) and the quality of it. After the lunch, you can walk one floor down to the observatory deck and with glass floors.
From there, we hang around the Rogers Centre ( and went to the Harbourfront Centre ( There was a “Toronto Nautical Festival” and the Harbourfront Centre itself is a waterfront walkways and parks which extend all the way through Toronto. We gave up somewhere around Bathurst street, went up town till Queen street and back to the hostel. The impression is that all Canadians decided to get out and spend the sunny evening in the local pubs and cafes; everything was filled to the brim.

Now, I’m sitting on a porch in the hostel and reflecting on two experiences I had today: people and... beer! Canadians seems to be a cheerful, friendly and generally good looking bunch of people. Some are smart as well (she is worshiping Lidia White who is a professor in the University of Toronto), but I guess it could be said about every countryman in the world (there are exclusions, but I won’t include those here). The same opinion cannot be extended to beer; after tasting this beverage in UK, Germany, Czech Republic and even France, Canadian brewers still have a long way to go... but maybe it was a wrong choice. My inner self tells me not to give up and keep trying as there is always a hope to find the “holy grail” of Canadian beer.

Check out the photo album
I will stop here as tomorrow is another long and exciting day: we are taking a tour to Niagara Falls!
Travellers Tips:
  • If you are going to the CN Tower (highly recommended), consider having a lunch at 360⁰ restaurant.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Canada – The First Impression

View on Toronto Downtown
Yesterday night (11pm) we landed in the frozen giant’s capital – Toronto. Air Canada’s flight was as good as expected, well worth extra 50 quid (if you compare it with Air Transat). Except having slightly different accent, it was an English Summer in a full blossom (raining). For those who are planning to travel to Toronto, there is a very good public transport system. From the airport, you can take bus 192 and then subway to anywhere in the city for $2.75 (don’t forget to ask the driver for the transfer ticket). After an hour in the subway and 15 minutes walk, we finally arrived to Canadiana Backpackers Inn (, a place we are going to call home for the next 4 days.
First (technically, it is our second) day was gloomy and rainy. Toronto is quite walkable, so we went to a new city hall (impressive curved skyscraper) and bought “hop on hop off” ticket. Don’t rush to buy it at the hotel as there are number of Double Decker bus companies and with different deals. We’ve got a 3 day ticket with Grey Line ( which includes (it is called the neighbourhoods route) Downtown, East and West Toronto, and South and North Toronto routes for $32. After doing the Downtown and East and West Toronto routes, we explored Eaton Centre (was not my idea) and then took a ferry to a Toronto islands (the ferry terminal is about 30 minutes walk). The place (island) is a must visit and well worth $6.50; even if you do not plan to spend any time on the islands, the views from the ferry on the Toronto downtown are amazing! There are nice parks, animal farm, beaches, lakes, etc. on the island and too easy to spend the whole day there. When we returned to a mainland, we took a subway to York (north of downtown) where (apparently) lives a large Russian community. No offence, but every time I go to Russian communities, I want to live there less and less. In the end we went to a jazz club on @317 King St. West Toronto where they serve an amazing Italian and a range of cocktails for $5 each.
Alright, it is a long day tomorrow (being a tourist is not an easy thing) and time to sleep...
Travellers Tips:
  • A trip on a (excellent) public transport in Toronto cost $2.75 and includes transfers. Don't forget to ask for a transfer ticket!
  • If you are a student, do not forget to apply (and bring with you) for ISIC card!
  • All the prices you see do not include state and government taxes!