Tag Archives: travel

The Lady Novelist and The Empress

20130903-120527.jpgDiary: 29 August

I have survived bears only to be buffeted about in a series of unlikely aircraft. The seaplane that nearly ended my career on the flight out to the Lodge was less unruly on the return journey, but the small aeroplane to Vancouver was late and flew turbulent skies. Nevertheless, our small band of explorers bound for Victoria, on the southern end of Vancouver Island, made the connecting flight. Which appeared to be an Airfix model kit with an engine strapped to it. This newfangled air flight is wonderously fast and packed with adrenalln-spiking thrills, but I confess, I miss the days of leisurely travel by palanquin.

20130903-115405.jpgYet our skilled pilots brought us safely back to the solid surface of the planet, and thus my companion and I found ourselves ensconced in a large, comfortable room at The Empress, of the Fairmont line of hotels. This grand and picturesque pile opened in 1908, and its Edwardian elegance remains. It is certainly not the hotel’s fault that its wide corridors, wallpapered and carpeted in period glamour, leave me with a certain sensation of the collywobbles. Too many films like The Shining and episodes of Doctor Who have simply left me with a persistent distrust of corridors.

The hotel looks out upon the inner boat harbour, and a friendly gull landed on our sill in order to assess our suitability as residents of the fine old Empress. In this regard, the gull was not dissimilar to its distant cousin, the bald eagle, and seemed to find us wanting; although this may be due to the fact that I refused to share my dinner with the beast.

20130903-115719.jpgVictoria of course has more to offer the traveller than Edwardian grandeur. The town is the capital of British Columbia, and its Parliament House is decked out festively in fairy lights. Surely that speaks well of the politics of the town?

The Royal BC Museum’s Thunderbird Park is filled with striking and beautiful totems, while inside a current exhibition tells of the race to the South Pole, with text and artefacts from both the Amundsen and Scott parties. I have seen the original of the last page of Scott’s diary at the British Library, and even the replica here was deeply touching. What is this thing we have, being drawn to heroic failures of this kind? Perhaps it is that we would all hope to meet our ends, however desperate, with some measure of courage and grace.

20130903-120123.jpgA more encouraging note was struck on our visit to Emily Carr House. I hadn’t heard of this artist and writer before coming to Canada, but I’ve become an admirer. She was one of the early modernist painters, and her work is vivid and robust. She was originally spurned before finally becoming admired in later years, and Canadians are all now very proud of her. There is a book and documentary exploring the connections between her, Georgia O’Keefe and Freda Kahlo, which is an interesting juxtaposition between women of fierce talent and fiercer character.

The neighbourhood around the Carr house is also very pretty, filled with period homes of wood and bright colours. Only a few streets back from the harbour, it feels almost like a different town. The harbour is bustling with tourists and passengers from the docking cruise ships, but only these few blocks away there is beautiful architecture, wonderful little cafes like Tre Fantastico and space to take a calming breath or two.

Our days in Victoria are too few, but our next leg – on The Canadian train across the Rocky Mountains to Jasper, in true Edwardian style – promises gorgeous scenery. Onward, ever onward.

Thank you once more to our hosts, Canadian Tourism.

The Lady Novelist Becomes One with Nature

Day Five.

We have left the city behind. Hundreds of kilometres of rivers and mountains lie between me and the nearest cafe. That the coffee in Canada is a national tragedy is neither here nor there. The distance and therefore my separation anxiety exists.

Yet I have fetched up on a civilised shore indeed. The Great Bear Lodge, floating on the Nekite River that runs through the Great Bear Rainforest in western Canada, is a haven of comfort in the midst of perilous Nature.

Though, it turns out, nature is less perilous than I’d imagined. Some of it is playful. Some of it downright judgemental.

20130830-171142.jpgWe are guests at the Great Bear Lodge and last night (after an excellent repast prepared by the gifted Glen the Chef) we drove the rough terrain to a hide by the river. From there, ten of us sat in the shade, listening to the river, the sporadic splash of a leaping salmon, and the passing gulls, waiting to see a bear.

And see one we did, stepping quietly out from the forest some hundred metres distant, to look hopefully upon the river. Perhaps no fish were near; perhaps someone softly coughing in the hide disturbed it, but the bear moved on sans fish.

20130830-171259.jpgBears, it turns out, may be large but they are more timid than you’d think. They would rather amble away than pick a fight, though they’ll respond robustly if they feel threatened. The cardinal rule is Do Not Surprise a Bear.

(Take note, this includes springing out with birthday cake and a party hat. It also precludes donning, say, a regency frock and bonnet before going out to bear-watch, because that would certainly come under the heading of ‘surprising’.)

In a further aside, I did risk surprising a bear, and possibly the rare hiker, by needing to answer nature’s call without the protection of sturdy plumbing. Preceded by a guide who called out ‘hey, bear!’ in warm and friendly tones – no need to surprise bears or hikers any more than necessary – I was required to bare my all on the far side of our little bus. Let me tell you that there is nothing quite like a cool Canadian forest breeze on your arse and the nascent possibility of unwelcome surprises to let you know you’re alive.

On my return (unmolested by bears) to the hide, a flash of white on the river bank in the other direction proved to be a bald eagle. We saw several flying along the river. As I inspected this one through my binoculars, it turned its head in my direction and looked at me. Disapprovingly. Judgementally, in fact. It made me fear I had underdressed for the occasion, or possibly had forgotten to comb my hair.

But the inadequacy I felt under that gimlet stare vanished as another bear emerged from the trees and proceeded to pounce on the water, galloping upstream in a frolicsome manner before halting, triumphant, with a large salmon in its jaws.

I guess it’s not much fun for salmon to be surprised either.

It was a little odd, silently cheering on the bear’s successful hunting foray (loudly cheering would come under the heading of ‘surprising a bear’ which, as has been discussed, is viewed with alarm). Not ten minutes earlier, I had been silently applauding the progress of a salmon as it leapt out of the water to get further upstream. For all I know the bear ate that very same fish, which would be a harsh irony indeed.

20130830-171402.jpgHere I sit, contemplating yesterday’s encounters with bear and bird. On the patio of this floating lodge, swallows dart about, one coming in to feed chicks in a nest under the eaves while tiny hummingbirds – itty bitty birdy helicopters – dart and hover, their wings an almost invisible blur that make an audible whirr as they pass. Splashes from the river indicate salmon, sometimes seals from the colony at the nearby island. It’s calm and fresh and simply lovely.

I’ve stated before that I don’t trust nature but I find this Canadian wilderness growing on me.

A little footage for you:

19 seconds of hummingbirds

one minute of a distant bear

(My thanks to Great Bear Nature Tours and Canadian Tourism for hosting us.)

The Lady Novelist Meets a Bear and Cheers a Lumberjack

On this, my third day in the Great Northern Metropolis, I made my way up the perilous paths to Grouse Mountain (by which I mean I stepped onto a bus and rode to the cable car over the trees to not-quite-the-summit).

Walking around a mountain was different to the previous two days, which mainly involved a cool walking tour and going to interesting places to eat. But, being that I am who I am, and none other than who I am, the trip to Grouse Mountain also involved food. But with views! Of bears! And lumberjacks! and distant lands like the United States of America! And giant wooden sculptures of eagles!

The wooden sculptures inevitably reminded me of the White Witch of Narnia turning talking animals to stone. Perhaps this day she was feeling more in the mood for earthy colours and the scent of woodchips.

Because frankly, this eagle would be even more imposing in stone.


But onto the bears! Two orphaned cubs were found some years ago and brought to Grouse Mountain to be cared for. Now around 4 years old, they are too used to humans to successfully return to the wild (where they might still be hunted). This one looks like I do before my first coffee of the day.


The second bear was more of a water baby:A Swimming Grizzly Bear

I felt the need to get down to the micro level for a bit, so here are some flowers and what might be a bee. Or a wasp. Or some other form of flying death. Seriously, I was more concerned by the stripey bug than the bear with the huge claws.


But never mind all that. Furry or flying forms of death-by-nature (and we all know how I distrust nature) be damned: there were lumberjacks on show. I mean doing a show. Pretty I mean fit I mean how very skilled they are.



And look. Footage. My intrepid fellow traveller and organiser-of-holidays extraordinaire said it all turned very Mr Darcy at the end there. Waterlogged Lumberjacks

Poor Johnny was nearly unmanned.

I found comfort in a Beaver Tail, my first! It’s a lot like a cinnamon and sugar doughnut that has been tortured on the rack before frying. The resulting squishy-outside-crunchy-middle meets with my sterling approval.


Having dessert before lunch was a bit arse-about, I know, but hey. I’m an adventuress now. I make WILD DECISIONS and I DO WHAT I WANT, OKAY?

We found a place on the deck overlooking the city below. We could see the border between Canada and the US very distinctly. It honestly looks like someone went out there and painted a great big line down the middle, like you’re tempted to do when you’re having a huge demarcation dispute with an annoying sibling with whom you share a room.




Though perhaps that was just my siblings.

Altitudes provided lunch (thank you Altitudes!) so we scarfed down a delish bready pretzel spread with Guiness-whipped soft cheese (no really, it’s much nicer than it sounds) and a spot of British Columbia salmon on flatbread for starters, and then onto the ling cod tacos, accompanied by a Ginger Ninja beer. This is not ginger-beer-as-softdrink. It’s beer with a bit of ginger zing. These Canadians. They know a thing or two about food.


Entertainingly, the view of mountains, the valley, the city, the river and all those trees was occasionally interupted by brave souls fluttering past on hang gliders. From where I sat, I couldn’t even hear any screaming. (Well, if it was me on one of those contraptions, probably the diners would have heard the screaming. And the swearing. And the ‘oh god what was I thinking?!’ so it’s just as well I was on the patio instead.)


Thank you to Grouse Mountain and Tourism Vancouver for hosting us today. In the Australian vernacular of my teenaged years, I had a grouse time!

The Lady Novelist turns Adventuress

20130824-063154.jpgDiary, 23 August 2013

We rose at 3am, the hour of ghosts and other unnatural stirrings of the night, so our timing in that regard was good. From this rude hour we bestirred ourselves to the airfield for our craft to Sydney, and thence to our machine to take us across the great Pacific to Vancouver, another outreach of the Empire.

Diary, 23 August 2013
What is this devilry? A day repeated in so unwarranted a fashion? I suppose we all wish for a do-over day sometimes, and at least this one I can do over NOT in the confines of a cramped airship full of people with a peculiar idea of the definition of ‘a single item of carry-on luggage’.


Nevertheless, here we are, I and my stalwart First Mate, despite exhaustion and frankly making not much sense at times, exploring Vancouver. The locals have been forbearing with us, especially when we nod off mid-sentence.

My favourite discovery so far in this city of hills and waterways: East Van Roasters. An establishment that makes coffee on a par with that of the hold homestead, and a spicy Mayan hot chocolate to kill for.

Organic coffee and cacao beans are both roasted on the premises and this not for profit business provides training and employment to local women.

Come to Vancouver for the gentle adventure and charmingly pleasant townsfolk. Stay for the beverages and chocolate products at East Van Roasters.

East Van Roasters: artisans chocolate and coffees at 319 Carrall St, Gastown, Vancouver