Old Town San Diego

Yesterday was our second day in San Diego. We started it out at 6:00, just as the sun was coming up. I fortified myself with a double dose of KCup coffee and spent a little time outside of our condo photographing the waves crashing against the shore, surfers and a flock of pelicans. Not a bad start to the day. Since we had a long day at the zoo the prior day, we decided to keep today a little more low key.

We ended up going to Old Town San Diego. They had a nice display set up for Dia De Los Muertos. We wandered around for a while, I bought a t-shirt and we had churros. Afterwards we went to the Pacific Beach Fish House for lunch. Seriously, some of the best scallops I have ever eaten. After lunch we headed to the beach. The waves at the beach by our condo were a little too intense, so we had to drive about 15 minutes to find one where Nola could actually go in the water.

Then we came back and visited some tide pools just a few minutes walk from where we are staying. We saw some crabs and anemones, but sadly no starfish. Dinner was sort of a scrounge since we were still too full from lunch to eat another full meal. But it was accompanied by the bottle of champagne I brought from Phoenix, so it really didn’t matter.

San Diego Zoo

We spent our first full day in San Diego at the zoo, naturally. Since we didn’t have a vehicle large enough to accommodate everyone, we drove separately and met up near the ticket booths at 10:00. Unfortunately, I chose the wrong line. It was the shortest, but one woman managed to take up a full ten minutes when purchasing her tickets. I was cursing my choice every time another person got through the line next to ours. Which happened about six times.

We opted to start at the back of the zoo and work our way out towards the front, so we rode the Skyfari to the far side to see the polar bears. It was a little warm, but there were a tremendous amount of trees, so we were almost always in the shade. When it got to be 1:00, we stopped for lunch. By 3:00 we had worked our way back to the entrance and our final stop was for the “4D” movie experience. It was a 3D short for Halloween. The fourth dimension involved sensations such as the seat vibrating, blasts of air and water and the creepy feeling of some ribbon material by our feet.

It was actually a very cool experience and Nola loved it. I could have done without the water part. We left just after 3:30 and were happy to find that the traffic was minimal, at least on our side of the freeway. The other side was horrendous. We stopped at the grocery store for more supplies (bought too much, of course) and then went back to our condo to put up our feet and have a few snacks.

Dinner was at a local Mexican restaurant within walking distance. The sun had already set and it had cooled down considerably. We passed a lot of beautiful homes and some really high end car dealerships (Ferrari, Rolls Royce) along the way, which made for some nice window shopping. The food was good, but I was disappointed with my margarita. By the time we walked back, I was already having trouble keeping my eyes open. I ended up crawling into bed at 9:00. I am getting old. But I’m feeling really rested this morning.

San Diego Arrival

It feels weird to be publishing in real time again. We arrived at our rental condo in La Jolla just before 4:00 pm yesterday. We pulled up to the building and I realized something was amiss when I checked our parking instructions, which clearly stated we were to park in the middle spot of the driveway. The only driveway we saw was leading down to an underground parking garage. So we parked on the street (lucky to find a close spot) and went to check things out.

Turns out, we were on the wrong side of the building. We drove around the block, parked in our designated space and found the lockbox with our door key. Then I read the rest of the entry instructions and found we could only enter the building via the door on the other side. So we drove around again and parked so we could unload our luggage and bring it up to the condo. The exterior door was keyed, but the condo door had an electronic lock. Two, actually. One for the handle and one for the deadbolt. Problem was, they time out. So entering the code in succession for both locks and getting the door open took more than a few tries.

It took two trips to bring all of our luggage up and then we drove back around the block again and parked. We were just getting out of the car when I received a text from my husband’s sister. They had arrived and didn’t know how to get into the building. Her entry instructions were much less clear than ours and she was hunting for the lock box on the wrong side of the building while her husband sat in the car blocking the driveway to the underground garage.

I let her into the building and she opened the garage door from inside so he could park the car. Then I showed her where to get the key and helped them bring the luggage up to their condo, which was one floor above ours. They also had an electronic lock on the door and the code was buried in their entry instructions. The rental company provides an app with all of the information, but is apparently pretty inconsistent about how it’s presented.

Nola and her dad needed to shower off sand from the beach, so my husband’s sister and I walked to a nearby grocery store to get supplies for dinner and breakfast. I managed to get us slightly lost locating the store. It’s actually quite close, but the roads are curved and there’s a museum in the way of the most direct path. Our landing at San Diego proved to be a bit rocky, but hopefully that’s disaster proofed us for the rest of the trip.

Calgary to Home – 9/29

Today was the last day of our epic journey. We spent the previous night getting most of our luggage packed, so we didn’t have too much to get ready for our departure in the morning. So of course, I was wide awake at 6:30. My legs were covered with bruises – a combination of my camera banging against them and some awkward entries into my seat on the train. I also had sore calves and a stiff right hip flexor from our ill considered hike the previous day. Totally worth it.

We took the larger bags out to the car on the way to our final buffet breakfast at Chili’s. My husband stood behind the car pressing the trunk open button on the key fob, but nothing happened. Oh shit, did the battery die? Then we looked up and saw the trunk of the car about 50 feet ahead of us standing open. We were trying to get into the wrong rental car. It was the identical make, model and color, just parked slightly closer to our room. What were the odds of that happening? We laughed about it all through breakfast.

We ended up hitting the road a good hour before it was necessary, just because we really didn’t have anything else to do. We waved goodbye to Banff and hit the road to Calgary. The highway was nice and smooth and the scenery was stunning, at least for the first half of the drive. The only notable occurrence was a raging car fire (fortunately) on the other side of the highway.

Since we had so much extra time before our flight, we decided to park in short term parking and check our bags before returning the rental car. That all went smoothly. Then we needed to fill the tank and things went a bit sideways. Our GPS indicated there was a gas station on airport property. I was skeptical, but it only involved a few turns, so we gave it a try. Nope. So we tried the next closest place. It took us on the highway and then wanted us to turn around and double back. Not falling for that one again. We had already spotted a station on the other side of the highway, so we went with the sure thing.

Then we returned the rental car and went in with just our carry-on baggage. Calgary allows you to pass through US Customs at the airport, saving you from doing so upon landing. I was caught a little off guard by the Global Entry kiosk and ended up having my photo taken with my boarding pass in my mouth. So flattering. The customs screening was the most effective one I’ve ever experienced. The agent engaged us in a conversation, asking about our trip, where we lived, our (previous) jobs and where we graduated from college. It was very pleasant for us, but anyone traveling with a nefarious purpose would have started stammering. Way more effective than random screening.

Delta doesn’t have a lounge in Calgary, so we had a very nice lunch at Wolfgang Puck’s and finished just before it was time to head to our gate. The international terminal is brand new and gorgeous, but the gates were a pretty far hike and had limited seating and nothing in the way of services nearby. It was a short and uneventful flight. Our vacation was fabulous, but it’s always nice to come home again.

Lake Louise – 9/28

Since this was our last day in Banff, the family deferred to us regarding activities for the day. The obvious move was to check out Lake Louise, so we did. The plan was to leave at 9:00 am, but we received a text at 8:30 telling us that Nola was still sleeping and it would be at least an hour before they could hope to have her up and ready. So we decided to get a head start and meet everyone else there. Since we had extra time, we went off the interstate and took the scenic route.

We ended up stopping and photographing an aspen grove. (One of my many photographic obsessions) Between that and the slower speed limit, we ended up arriving at Lake Louise about five minutes after the rest of our family. Which was a good thing, because they literally shut down the parking lot just a few minutes later due to it being completely full. On a Thursday at the end of September. I can’t imagine what it’s like during the summer here.

After spending a few minutes walking around Lake Louise, we decided to do the hike to the tea house. I had read about it and, while it sounded a little arduous, I figured we would be unlikely to get all the way to the top with Nola as part of the group. Boy, was I wrong. Nola ended up being carried by her dad for a significant portion of the hike and the rest of us were all too stubborn to quit.

It took nearly an hour and a half, but we all made it. We lingered at the top, squeezing in at a shared table at the tea house and ordering tuna sandwiches, brownies and lemonade. The bread was stale and the lemonade was watery, but I was so thirsty it tasted wonderful. That, and a quarter of one brownie ended up being my lunch. I was kicking myself for not having grabbed a bottle of water and a snack before starting the hike.

By the time we got back to the bottom it was nearly 4:00 and I was astonished to see people just beginning the hike. Have fun coming down in the dark people. We were spent, so my husband and I drove directly back to our hotel, while the rest of the group made a short trip into the town of Lake Louise. We met again for dinner at a restaurant called The Meatball (totally not kidding). The most memorable aspect of it was the muzak – at one point they played the theme from Shaft. After the day we had, McDonald’s would have made me happy.

Banff – 9/27

So, here we were in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and everyone in our group just wanted to sleep. I was up at 7:00, of course. I spent the morning doing a load of laundry, as I wanted to get out of our suite and let my husband sleep as late as he could without me tromping overhead. The morning air was colder than I expected, just a few degrees above freezing, but the sun made up for it. Everywhere I looked there was a mountain. Banff really is stunning.

We took advantage of the free hotel breakfast buffet just before 10:30. The hotel restaurant was a Chili’s, which I found absolutely hysterical. The buffet was surprisingly good, though. After breakfast we drove into town to pick up a few essentials. We met up with the rest of the family in the early afternoon, as they were having lunch in a mall food court. Nola was up to her baby tiger routine – crawling on the floor, growling and untying my shoelace with her teeth.

We decided on separate plans for the afternoon. My husband and I wanted to take the gondola up to Sulphur Mountain, while the brothers-in-law wanted to go hiking, Nola’s mom wanted to take her to a playground and my husband’s other sister wanted to do some shopping. We had just spent two full days together on the train, so a little separation seemed like a good idea.

The gondola ride was fantastic, except for my misguided belief that it would be cooler at the top of the mountain. I should have left the fleece jacket in the car. Afterwards, we met my sisters-in-law for a quick drink in our room before rejoining Nola and her dad for dinner at the hotel Chili’s. They seated us in an isolation booth. Seriously, it was separate from all of the other tables and had a high plexiglass barrier over the top of the booth. How did they know?

Rocky Mountain High – 9/26

We spent some of our previous evening reviewing a revised landscape sketch for our new home and sending feedback. Sometimes I hate the pervasiveness of internet access. What I hate more is a 6:00 am start time. I don’t mean wake-up time, I mean have your butt on the bus time. This was our third day in a row with a super early start and it was starting to wear on us. On the plus side, we had the first seating for breakfast and lunch today.

Once again the day started out extremely gloomy. Nola was completed exhausted and refused to nap at any point during the day, so she got more rambunctious as the hours passed. The stunning scenery quickly made me forget dealing with house stuff. That is, until my phone rang. I was utterly astonished to see that it was our landscape designer calling. I answered it, mostly out of habit, but it’s close to impossible to carry on a coherent conversation on a moving train.

Our breakfast menu was identical to the previous day, so I was hoping the same would be true for lunch, as I was seriously torn on my choice for the previous day. Alas, they had an entirely new menu for lunch. I had to settle for the burger. It did not disappoint. Also in the not disappointing category – the beautiful river we followed for many miles. We even spotted a few eagles in the river and I now have many blurry photos to prove it.

During the journey we received the model train engine and car we had ordered the previous day. It was a great souvenir of our journey and will fit perfectly into the trains/planes/automobiles theme my husband is planning for his new office/study. We also filled out the paperwork to expedite processing the rental car we had waiting for us at the station in Banff. When we entered the Canadian Rockies, our train hosts treated us to “Rocky Mountain High.” Yes, I know the song is about Colorado, but it still fits.

We arrived at the station just as it was starting to get dark. The rental car was a new Ford Fusion, and one of the nicer ones we’ve had. Our hotel was five minutes away and our bags were waiting in the room when we arrived. Our “room” was a two story suite with the living room/kitchenette on the main level and the bedroom and bathroom downstairs. Once again, I was never so happy to crawl into a hotel bed and go to sleep.

The Train, the Train – 9/25

We were up at 5:15 am to start our epic train journey. Once again, we needed three taxis to take us to our destination, which was a blessedly short ride. Any doubts about being at the wrong station were quickly erased by the giant¬† “Rocky Mountaineer” sign over the door. The superior service started before we even exited the taxi –¬† people came with luggage carts and swiftly loaded our baggage, then escorted us to the check-in line. We wouldn’t have to touch our bags again until we arrived at our hotel in Banff.

We boarded the train with an appropriate amount of pomp and circumstance, including a bagpipe performance. The main level of the car housed the dining room, bathrooms and an outside viewing platform. The seats were on the upper level, with a glass roof for maximum viewing opportunities. We were happy to find that our seats were at the end of the car, behind the staircase. So no one would walk by us and, more importantly, I could stow my camera backpack at the end of the aisle and not under my feet. Score!

The dining area wasn’t large enough to hold everyone, so there were two seatings for each meal. We were in the second breakfast group, so they served us warm scones and coffee while the first group had their meal. I quickly discovered that there were way too many trees bordering the tracks. I have many, many images of blurry trees. And not the good kind. Nola opted for her iPad over the scenery for much of the day. I alternated between shooting out the window and running downstairs to the viewing platform.

The day started with rain in Vancouver, then we went through a long period of heavy overcast. It finally brightened up later in the afternoon. The food and the service was impeccable. When we weren’t actually eating a meal, they were bringing us snacks and drinks. We made it to Kamloops in record time, arriving around 5:15. They handed out the hotel key cards while we were still on the train and assigned us bus numbers to take us to the hotel.

The hotel was very nice with a pool and indoor garden area. The only downside was its location far from the center of Kamloops. Given the length of the day, we weren’t really up to wandering around anyway. Our bags were waiting in our room, so we changed into comfy clothes and headed to the pool area to watch Nola splash around (of course). We ended up eating at the bar of the hotel restaurant, due to its proximity and the promise of 2 for 1 margaritas. The food was good, but the service was unbearably slow. They seemed completely unprepared for the onslaught of train passengers. I have never been so happy to crawl into a hotel bed at the end of a day.

Vancouver Island – 9/24

Today was our one full day in between the cruise and our upcoming train journey. I had arranged a van and driver for a private tour of Vancouver Island. The scheduled pickup time was a brutal 7:15 am. The driver was early and so was everyone in our crew, so we hit the road just after 7:00. Normally, they allow an hour for the drive to the ferry and commercial vehicles are supposed to arrive about 45 minutes before departure, so we had a reservation for the 9:00 ferry.

Between our early departure and the utter lack of traffic on a Sunday morning, we actually arrived about ten minutes before 8:00. When it became apparent that we be arriving before the 8:00 ferry departed, our driver offered us the option of taking the earlier one, space permitting. He warned us that it was the “old” ferry. We jumped on the opportunity to add an hour to our day on Vancouver Island. In retrospect, I think he wanted to be on the newer, nicer ferry, because it served a full hot breakfast.

We added half of our extra hour to our tour of the Butchart Gardens and half to our time in Victoria. My fear that Nola would be bored by the garden was completely unfounded, she was entranced by all of the flowers. She spent a good part of our tour showing off her “helper” skills by ordering us in line. I got relegated to the back. Her dad sympathized, as that’s usually his position.

We didn’t do much in Victoria, just wandered around, stopped for lunch and visited a small market. Unfortunately I realized that the slightly uncomfortable bathroom situation I had noticed the previous day was likely a UTI. My first ever at the age of 53 and it comes while we’re on vacation. Fun stuff. After our driver returned us to the hotel, my first priority was to find a pharmacy, followed by a liquor store. I stayed up way too late, packing and knocking down cranberry pills chased with red wine. At least there will be a bathroom close by when we’re on the train tomorrow.

Return to Land – 9/23

As promised, we docked precisely at 7:00 am. Our luggage had to be left outside of the door at midnight, so we both showered the night before in order to minimize the amount of toiletries we needed to cram into our carry-on bags. The group had decided to stay on the ship as long as possible, since we would likely not be able to get into our hotel rooms until early afternoon. All passengers were given luggage tags with a color and a number, based on their disembarkation plans. I had a moment of panic when they called our group (Black #1) just after 8:00 am, but confirmed with the concierge that we would be allowed to stay until 9:50. Whew!

They immediately got to work cleaning the ship for the next round of passengers. Someone came to hose down our veranda while we were still in the cabin. I had to hunt down our cabin steward (Bangbang) to give him his tip. By the time we left the ship and went to collect the luggage, our bags were easy to find, as most of Black #1 left as soon as the group was called. We passed through customs without anyone checking our passports or asking any questions. There was a long line for taxis, but it went relatively quickly.

We arrived at our hotel at 11:00 and were lucky to have one of the three rooms (not ours) ready, so we could at least stow our bags. Then we had brunch and walked down to the harbor in search of a playground to burn off some of Nola’s excess energy. We walked along the waterfront and came across a children’s waterpark. It was on the cool side, but that didn’t stop Nola from stripping down to her t-shirt and underwear and running through the jets.

The sisters needed to do laundry in preparation for our upcoming train journey, so we spent the late afternoon at a local laundromat. Then everyone separated for dinner plans. Mine ended up being a salad and watery cider in the hotel restaurant. Not the best meal, but convenient. I was in bed by 9:30. Tomorrow would be a long day.