Holidays and Other Excursions

Tag: buses


Saturday 16 May 2015

In the itinerary this was a free day to do as we wished.  The main possibilities offered by Richard, our tour guide, was to visit the Whyte Museum or to ride the Banff Gondola (a cable car in plain English).  Jackie however had put her sleuthing hat on and found that on Saturday evenings only the Restaurant at the Banff Gondola have two special meals at 5 and 7pm.  The fee for the ride is normally $40 each; special price including a three course meal was about $60 each.  She booked the early sitting.

They sent through the email confirmation with pdf attachment.  On careful reading we find the latter has to be printed to enable the barcodes to be scanned.  Who takes a portable printer on holiday?  Technology is not that good!  And they cannot scan the barcodes on the ipad screen.  Cue panic.  Eventually however I managed to get the internet PC off reception to print the magic pieces of paper.

Instead of eating breakfast in our hotel we walked down the street about 6 hotels / hostels etc.   Jackie had spotted  restaurant in another hotel called “El Toro” and inside we found comparative peace and quiet – our hotel had a noisy dining room – plus much better prices and a huge breakfast.  Jackie is now quite addicted to blueberry pancakes and I had a “combo” – scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms and a lot of potatoes I did not eat.  Plus the inevitable fruit with your Canadian breakfast.  And the waiting time is such that it was all freshly cooked.  Not quite beating Jasper breakfasts but pretty good.

We visit the spa and spend 10 – 15 minutes in a 28 seater jacuzzi.  104 deg F – hot!  We retire to our room, Jackie to sleep and I attend to photographs and so on.

Buses today are running to time so we are at the Gondola base station in plenty of time; as it is not busy we are granted immediate access and we are lifted into the sky to the top of Sulphur Mountain.  The weather is unattractive but I walk most of the way to the old weather station but retreat when the snow joins the cold wind.

Photos of this excursion are not outstanding and can be found here.

At 5 we take our seats in the restaurant and although circular it does not revolve.  We can look down on Banff and sometimes it is visible and sometimes it vanishes behind a combination of snow and low flying clouds.  Yet another good meal of a huge salad, a piece of rib of beef and strawberries in my case and a wonderful chocolate concoction for Jackie certainly made the whole thing worthwhile.

A couple of observations about buses.  Firstly know what your local stop looks like in a strange town, or you may have to walk back from getting off a stop too soon.  In Banff they also have a wonderful concept – they allow travellers to strap their bike to the front of the bus (certainly at one point we had two on the front).  Somehow I cannot see that catching on in Bracknell; nor on the front of SWT 455’s – but it is better than them being dragged into the passenger areas!

Banff National Park

Friday 15 May 2015

Another day and so the tour continues.  Although it had been looking a little grey overhead it starts to brighten up and we head up towards Norquay for a great view down on to the town which is laid out below plus some more long horn sheep and some praire dogs running around the field.  The latter tend to be far too small to be visible in photographs unless I invest in one of those extreme telephoto lenses – which is unlikely.

Pictures today are here.

Our tour today is essentially to see bits of the huge Banff National Park and to enjoy some of the highlights.  So back on the coach everyone and try to stay awake in the hope of spotting wildlife.  Although I and others can be seen dozing from time to time, particularly on some of the longer runs through the lush fir forests.  The fir trees are in fact very close together which we gather tends to limit the ability of the animals with large antlers to be able to progress through the forest, which looking at the road side is clear as spotting animals any distance into the wood is impossible.

The established view over forest fires has changed in recent years.  Historically the aim was always to seek to extinguish fires to prevent loss of trees – they can happen from natural causes such as lightning strikes as well as man made intervention.  Now the pendulum has swung and a small amount of controlled burning of the woods has happened, although we were told in one case that it had spread further than planned.  Working out the right ecological balance must be difficult.

Our second stop should have involved coffee but once again we are slightly early; the lights in the restaurant are on but the door is locked. Cleaning and preparation for the season is underway!  This is Johnston Canyon where we have time to walk as far as the lower falls before returning.  I saw a variety of small creatures running around whilst stopped here, chipmunk like but even though I was at ground level photos are not worth it as they tend to say.  In the car park was a “Beaumont” car – a General Motors marque used between 1966 and 1969 and in good condition.

The coffee stop is taken at Samson Mall (damn fine coffee in Laggan’s Bakery – no sign of any cherry pie anywhere in Canada so far) plus some sandwiches to eat at our next halting place – Lake Louise; another beautiful piece of scenery which I would love to look at for even longer.  But do not turn around; behind you is a modern hotel, with no style or design; you could find it in Dubai or almost anywhere. And it is huge.  Never mind, most of the time whilst facing the lake it does not impinge on the pictorial quality of the place; just do not turn around.  Shame it is not panto season.

We temporarily leave Alberta for British Columbia and the Yoho National Park.  In theory there is a one hour time change at the border but as we are returning to Banff later this change is not made.  I wonder how local residents popping across the border cope – or perhaps there is actually very little local traffic?

Our purpose is to visit the Kicking Horse river where there is a bridge which has been left by the water cutting through the rock and later we move onto the very peaceful and quiet environs of Emeral Lake; although we are in Yoho the photos to be found at this link.

Our journey then reverses to head back to Banff; I note for the first time Canadian Pacific trains as opposed to CN which has been the mainstay betweenToronto and Jasper; but this more southerly area was CP dominated.

In the evening we decide on something completely different and catch the bus into Banff.  We wander around the town assessing the various eating possibilities but our choice is unaltered – it is time for a greek meal in Balkan, which occupies the Cascade Hall.  Pita bread and three dips is probably to much; Jackie has a moussaka which I acknolwedge looks good and apparently is good to eat whilst I consume some skewered steak, rice and potatoes.

On the journey into town the bus was running late on the timetable and this continued as we found when we returned to the bus stop.  Indeed the gap was such that we reckoned we could walk back to the Caribou Lodge first and so it proved as we were back indoors, walking at Jackie’s usual leisurely pace without being passed by the bus.


Caves of Nerja, Burriana Beach and Last Dinner

Friday 13 March 2015 & Saturday 14 March 2015

We have until today enjoyed warm sunshine but the sky is overcast today and there is a strong wind blowing.  Luckily we have planned to spend the morning visiting the famous Caves of Nerja which were discovered in 1959 by some local teenagers.  Today there is a rather more formal entrance and descent using stairs and a tour around a small number of caves.  There are a further number which are not publically accessible where research and study is undertaken.

The caves contain many fantastic examples of stalactites and stalagmites many formed into columns which have taken millenina to come together.  Indeed in the fifty years since discovery the shape and extent of them has probably hardly changed to the visible eye.

The accompanying audio tour gives a good explanation of the discovery but also of the history.  The caves were occupied from about 40,000 years ago until about 4,000 years ago and are now known to contain some of the oldest cave paintings in the world.

I find the caves to be drier and warmer than I had expected, indeed on emerging I feel a greater need for a coat than I had experienced underground.

Getting good photos in the Caves is not easy – so the number here are limited.

And it is now colder although it would be even chillier at home.  So that puts paid to the sunbathing and getting browner and also kills off any idea of more sugar free ice cream!

So we head over to the other beach at Burriana – all good going and near the end there is a massive long downhill zig zag to sea level.  On the edge of the beach are numerous restaurants and all are doing some form of barbecue.  “Ayo” is recommended and is famous in that the owner is one of the five boys who nearly 60 years ago discovered the caves we visited earlier.  We take a look at the others but decide to eat in Ayo.  As we wander past it they are cooking the most enormous paella – the pan is so large that it takes two people to lift it off the fire (which is being fed broken down wooden pallets!).  And it is clearly hot and well liked as we see numerous portions being delivered from the pan.

We are always contrary – I wanted some prawns and I receive five of the largest prawns I have ever seen.  A plate of the paella was €6.75; my prawns were €15 which was about the most expensive item on the menu.  But plenty for lunch as we have dinner booked.

Going back to our hotel seemed a lot harder – that nice zig zag down is a much harder crawl back up the hill.

Come Saturday night it is time for our last restaurant outing, this time to Bakus in Calle Caballero.  This is about half way to Burriana without the descent to sea level.  Indeed most of Nerja is fairly flat, but way above sea level.

It does not open at lunchtime and not all evenings – so checking in advance and booking is essential – particularly as it was full on the evening we were there.  The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly the steak which was just right and a good piece of meat.  The lowlight was my head!  I stood up to go to the gents and my head collided with a low flying lampshade.  Which my wife then noticed was missing a piece of the glass of the lampshade.  I spent several moments looking for the missing piece and finding nothing before going on my original errand.

On my return my wife advised that in fact the piece had been broken some months ago with a wine bottle and not with my head that evening.  I think they need to be a little higher!

The wine list had a range of wines from about €10 to €30 – very different to UK prices.  Not really recognising any of the listed offers we asked the waiter for a suitable red to go with the steaks we had ordered and he pointed at us at a Tempranillo for €15.  Bear in mind this is about £12 at present.  Tell me of a restaurant that even sells a wine at that price in the UK.

Having had a good week on the food and drink we also enjoyed this final meal and the total bill was around €90 including the tip.  This maybe expensive for Nerja, but is exceedingly good value for money in most parts of the world.  We enjoyed our meal and it was noticeable that even at this relatively quiet time of the year the restaurant was full by the time we left (we always eat early).

On the way back into town we stopped off at a little bar my wife had been eyeing up all week.  Basic – but a good Rioja is €2 for a glass.  They also cook flaming sausages at the barrel top in front of you.  We did not partake have already eaten well, but I think it will force my wife to return to this part of the world.

Great food, great wine and good value prices.  Must be time to go home.

More soon.


Tuesday 10 March 2015

Not far from Nerja is Frigiliana – a small town a little way up in the hills from Nerja.  There is a bus service with a simple fare structure – €1 for the ride there and the same back later.  It takes about 15 minutes from the Nerja “bus station” – a somewhat overblown description as there is one stop on each side of the road and the buses do not stop anywhere else in the town!  I suppose they are stationary whilst at the stop.

Waiting the other side of the road when we arrive in Frigiliana is a road train and this costs €3 each (that seems expensive after the bus ride) for a trip around the lower part of the town with a running commentary and some stunning views in all directions – we failed to spot the oft mentioned pink chapel, however.  If we return we might see it – anyone got any pictures?  Tell us what we missed.  The caves of Nerja are famous (and we will be going there later in the week), but we are also pointed at some local cave entrances in the distance.

Now it is time to climb up into the old town.  Almost immediately we are climbing up steps – fairly gently – but we are heading upwards.  My wife has been here before and tells me that “Le Mirador” restaurant is at the top of the old town and before long we pick up signs telling us which way to go.  As we ascend we see some carefully maintained corners and areas of plants and flowers.  Hopefully some of the photographs have made their way onto my Flickr page.

We are still going upwards when we pass a nice looking restaurant sign – but it is not lunchtime just yet; a little further up there is a guitarist playing outside another restaurant with signs to other bars and so on.  Anyway the steps seem to lead upwards, but then suddenly we are on a little slope downwards and just a bit further we reach ‘Le Mirador’ and it is on the dot twelve.  So could be lunchtime.  We ask for a menu but we are advised that food does not become available until 1.  If we just sit in the sun and drink it might be overdoing it by the time lunch arrives.  So we decide to go for a bit more of a wander and we find another restaurant but the wife was unimpressed by the smell so we depart and find we are going down and not along the way we came up.

Going down is easy, too easy.  We end up below the level at which we started this exercise and way, way out of town and as we walk back towards the town centre there is no access back into the old town.  And time is passing.  Eventually a huge set of steps and steep and UPWARDS.  We are heading in the right direction and eventually start picking up the signs for Le Mirador again but long before we get there we reach Oshun and seeing the sign we reckon this might be worth trying.  So we stumble in the front door and out the back onto a very nice terrace and a wonderful view.  And it is very definitely lunch time!

So go and look at the photos which are here.

The menu is studied but we are also offered some specials of the day and mostly this sounds better than the menu.  Our waiter has spent some time working in London and has pretty good English.  My wife orders the rabbit salad, with the rabbit wrapped around asparagus and then an outer wrapping of bacon and cut into about eight slices.  I order the octopus in galician style and this is just my cup of tea –  slices of octopus in olive oil with some paprika.

The main courses selected were cod baked in the oven for me and because she has so enjoyed the seea bass the previous evening in Nerja my wife ordered it again for lunch.  What she forgot to check was the filletting situation.  When it came the sea bass still had all of its bones. Luckily foresight (never order the same meal as the wife just in case) meant that there was a solution.  I got to eat the sea bass and my wife consumed the cod.  Inevitably I got the odd mouthful of bony bits and sadly my wife always thinks cod is fairly tasteless; but I felt both pieces of fish were well cooked and well presented and I had no problems at all eating the sea bass – it just saved me have to order it somewhere else during the holiday.

The waiter recommended a rather good bottle of white wine a rueda verdejo which comes from Northern Spain and this provides a very good accompaniment to the meal we had chosen.

A word about the waiter, when we sat down he kindly moved a chair for us to put bags and hats and so on to the side – in full view but also off the floor so that he did not tread on them.  Very thoughtful.  Also his English may not have been perfect but he tried very hard to ensure he described the food – and no doubt it was those explanations which led to us largely eating the say’s specials.

A cup of coffee each.

The bill including tip was €90 which for the quality of the food and service was excellent value.  If you can find it without getting lost first then I am sure it will be equally enjoyable!

We walked down the steps again and visited the local art exhibition and museum.  On her visit last year my wife nearly bought a painting and hoped it might still be there.  However the exhibits had all changed and so that opportunity had gone.

Time for the bus back to Nerja and a wander down through the streets which at 4pm are just coming awake again after the siesta break.  We have enjoyed a wonderful day in the sun shine (for the time of year the temperature is probably well above normal) but we pass the local residents still wearing the overcoats and woollies – we have been in T shirts and shorts all day.