Tuesday 23 August 2022 – For reasons which will become clear, this will be a fairly brief post, somewhat hastily cobbled together. I hope you enjoy the photos, though.
The day started well, in that we were up promptly, breakfasted, checked out of the hotel and in for our private charter flight, a small float plane, from Victoria to the Farewell Harbour Lodge. For a while, though, it all fell apart. The lass behind the check-in desk at Harbour Air told us that there would be a delay. It wasn’t quite clear why for a while, but eventually we understood the situation. Cloud and fog made flying in to Farewell Harbour too dangerous in the view of the Harbour Air despatcher, who was therefore unwilling to send a plane to us in Victoria unless the situation at the far end cleared. We were advised to wait and see whether the weather and the forecast changed. New forecasts came in every hour, and each one indicated that visibility would still be a problem.
Naturally, we started pondering alternatives, but the raw truth is that we needed to get somewhere over 500km away to an island in the Johnstone Strait, so flagging down a cab or seeking a bus ride wasn’t really an option. Even driving to the nearest place on Vancouver Island whence we could catch a water taxi looked too difficult.
Despite the best efforts of BT, whose circuitry detected a crisis and therefore implemented a cap on Jane’s phone, we managed to contact Discover Holidays, who are looking after us whilst we’re in Canada. Fortunately, Jane got through to a lady called Sarah, who had worked on developing our itinerary with the heroic Brendan at NATS, so we didn’t have to waste time explaining the problem to her. The idea of a driver was mooted, but then all of a sudden, a plan came into being which was to fly us as near to Farewell Harbour as the weather allowed (e.g. Campbell River) and take a water taxi from there. So we got our plane after all.
We climbed in, buckled up and the pilot taxied out past the air traffic control tower
(because Victoria Harbour is unique in Canada because it actually has a runway marked in the harbour), and off we went. Conditions were pretty clear, so here are some of the photos we managed to garner as we went:
Victoria Harbour, with the breakwater we walked around yesterday at the top of the picture;
evidence of some fairly drastic logging;
several views showing what a big slab of land Vancouver Island is;
a couple of arty attempts on my part;
a photo by Jane of Campbell River (meaning – yippee! – it had cleared and we were carrying on all the way to our proper destination);
coming down towards our landing and skimming along just below the clouds; and finally
arrival at Farewell Harbour Lodge, where we found out a couple of interesting nuggets. Firstly, the pilot of our plane (a De Havilland Beaver – I was going to call this post “Nice Beaver” but Jane gave me One Of Her Looks) was named, appropriately, Dakota; and secondly, Tim, the proprietor of the lodge, could take the credit for us arriving, as it was his suggestion that we fly as far as the weather allowed, and he was pretty sure it would clear, as indeed it did.
It was, thus, with considerable relief that we arrived at the lodge (which looks great and seems very well-organised)
only some five hours late and just in time to get a beer in as Tim gave us the indoctrination spiel. A key fact that emerged from this is that tomorrow will be an early start, hence my brevity. I am being brief. Yes, I am.
We actually peered round the back of our cabin and found where they park the boats, as well as this scene
which is documentary proof that you can indeed have your kayak and heat it. Thank you. Thank you for listening to my joke.
A delicious dinner was at 7, after which we got a very interesting talk on humpback whales from a lady called Vicky, and so it’s now quite late – at least relative to the 0530 alarm we’ll need if we are to join in tomorrow’s excursion to seek grizzly bears and other fauna. So I hope you’ll excuse me whilst I get to bed to try to get some sleep. Come back tomorrow and find out if we made it.
Tuesday 9 August 2022 – If you’ve read yesterday’s installment you’ll know that we reached Heathrow with no problem beyond the usual apprehension that bedevils us in the quiet time before the taxi arrives for major travel. The rest of Phase 1 of the journey – getting out of the UK and into Vancouver – was generally very agreeable and entirely crash-free. The Air Canada plane was, I think, quite new and certainly spiffy, with little touch screens for doing everything: selecting in-flight entertainment, controlling the aircon, configuring the seat.
The choice of in-flight entertainment movies was very impressive. I didn’t count the total offering of films, but I reckon it must have been around 100 – new releases, classics and cult offerings. My normal choice is to for escapist rubbish, typically out of the Marvel stable, but I noticed something that really took my fancy, standing out because it was first in the list due its name – A Hard Day’s Night. I wonder if there’s anyone out there who doesn’t know that this is a Beatles film? It’s not a classic, but the songs in it are classic early Beatles numbers from 1964. The nostalgic sentimentalist urges which lurk embarrassingly close to the surface within me immediately settled on this as the first film to watch.
(The Beatles LP that featured the film’s songs was the first 12″ LP that I ever bought. It was expensive – 32/6d, or £1.63 in modern currency – and I treasured it. Until I gave it away, that is. I think my brother took it off my hands when I decided that I was only interested in classical music, which was in turn before I became a fan of prog rock before turning back to classical music. Musically, I’m just a tart.)
(Another parenthetical note. 32/6d is nearly 97 Mars Bars – they cost 4d in those days if memory serves. Today, a Mars Bar is 65p, meaning that the equivalent cost to me, a 12-year-old was just a whisker under £63. Never let it be said that LPs are expensive these days.)
I actually went to see the original Hard Day’s Night film in the cinema, and, on watching it again, realised how much about it I had forgotten. It’s a Richard Lester musical comedy film, and so its credentials are reasonably good. Although it doesn’t stand up to today’s cinematography in any way, I hugely enjoyed watching it; a wonderful burst of nostalgia, both musically and otherwise as I was reminded of the songs and successfully recognised some peripheral actors in the film whom I wouldn’t have expected to see. I’m particularly proud to have identified a young Robin Ray, who had just a tiny cameo.
Culturally, the rest of the flight was a basket case as I went back to escapist rubbish which seemed mainly to feature Benedict Cumberbatch being American and Strange. I managed to squeeze 3.98 films into the journey, with just the climactic 15 minutes of The Batman unwatched due to the plane having come to a halt outside the Vancouver terminal (see later). Jane tried to persuade me out of the intellectual doldrums of these films to make sure I’d seen some of the scenery as we approached Vancouver. We both had a go at taking photos of the view, which was excellent. But, again, see later.
Jane also got some good shots as we got closer to Vancouver itself.
Once landed, we then needed to get ourselves to the airport hotel, a Fairmont. The process was smooth and largely stress-free. The airport has a plethora of electronic passport gates which worked well, and also allowed us to assert that we were free of the Dreaded Lurgy; there was a final check by a border guard and then all we had to do was to hand over our ArriveCAN receipt and find our bags. There are many, many carousels at Vancouver airport and one has to walk past quite a few before finding a screen telling you where to look. We found our carousel and only had to do a few minutes of The Carousel Stare Thing before Jane’s bag came out. Having invested in baggage trackers, I was a bit concerned about where my tracker was telling me it was, which was still at Heathrow. However, it turned out that it was teasing me, as the bag turned up just a couple of minutes later.
Finding the hotel was a process which had a promising start, as there were signs, but the navigation grew a bit more challenging as we debouched into a huge arrivals terminal now devoid of any hotel-related guidance. We (i.e. Jane – I have my male pride to think of, here) asked someone and were pointed in the right direction which turned out to be up another level at the other end of the not minuscule terminal building – another non-trivial walk for my poor backpack-oppressed shoulders – and were soon checking in. Easy as it was, the process carried with it one disappointment, albeit a relatively minor one. Fairmont is part of the Accor hotel group, and, for reasons lost in the mists of time, I have a loyalty membership; since the vast majority of the hotels on our holiday are Fairmonts, I’d fondly imagined building up a huge reservoir of loyalty points as we went. This turned out to be illusory as the nice check-in chap told us that you need to book the hotels as an individual to accrue points. Since all ours were travel agent bookings, these didn’t count. Sigh 😒. Still, we got free WiFi, so it’s not an entirely lost cause.
From then on, the day proceeded exactly in line with my previous experiences of air travel to west-coast America: feeling a little tired and a little hungry despite being fed twice on the plane; heading to the bar for a snack and a drink;
after said drink and snack at the bar – a good one, incidentally – suddenly feeling very tired; going to bed earlyish and falling asleep immediately; waking up at 3am and finding it difficult to get back to sleep.
However, we both managed to get a reasonable quantity of sleep in a very comfortable and well-organised room. We took breakfast in the hotel. It was table service only, so no browsing of the buffet for healthy items, and food choices that were rather too complex for my jetlag-ravaged brain. In the end, we had a good, substantial breakfast before heading off to hand our bags over to the tender mercies of the international baggage transfer system.
Air Canada recommended we get checked in some three hours before the flight to Anchorage, so we were in plenty of time at a very quiet check-in area. Bag deposit was easy, if conducted through more checkpoints than I’m used to, and we eventually found the Maple Leaf lounge in the terminal building. At this point, we realised we’d made a tactical error, in that we could have had a perfectly decent breakfast in the airport lounge and saved ourselves the $100 that breakfast had cost us. Reading my brother’s blog of his Canadian odyssey had set my expectations that things in Canada were expensive. The reality still stings a bit, though.
And finally, the North! To Alaska! part of the journey was a really pleasurable, nay unique, experience. We were cordially greeted by the cabin steward, a very agreeable chap called Hugh Chetwynd, who did a superb job of swift and efficient service for all his (#smug) business class customers whilst keeping up an engaging stream of cheerful conversation. One nugget he vouchsafed as we were awaiting departure was that the view during the trip should be excellent, as they were expecting clear conditions and flying up along the west coast. Rather delightfully, there was a spare window seat available on the other side of the plane, so I moved from my usual aisle seat and both Jane and I were able to get the benefit, and got some great photos from each side of the plane.
The view was sensational! When we were in Jordan, a tea stop above Petra advertised itself as having the best view in the world, but, frankly, what we saw knocked that into a cocked hat. Here’s a taster.
I don’t believe I’ve ever been been fortunate enough to take as many worthwhile photos as I managed on this flight, all the way from Vancouver to Juneau, before the weather closed in and clouds obscured the view.
Whilst I was busy taking photos from one side of the plane, Jane was equally busy on the other side, so we have a vast number of excellent images. I won’t bore you with the photos here, but you can see them in this separate post, which is a treasure trove for anyone who is interested in aerial photos of lakes and mountains.
Excellent service, wonderful aerial photos and free no-extra-charge gin & tonic – what a heady combination!
Once the clouds obscured the view, since the same films were on offer today as on yesterday’s flight, I was then free to catch up on the final 2% of the film I had failed to watch to the end – The Batman. It was very much in line with the rest of the film – too dark to see what was happening most of the time, lines muttered in voices too hoarse to understand what was going on and plotted in such a manner that the first two drawbacks made the whole thing an incomprehensible mess. But I’d nothing better to do and nowhere else to go, so I got a sort of grim sense of closure out of wasting those extra few minutes of my life.
When we arrived at Anchorage it became apparent that the passport check that we’d undergone in Vancouver represented the international border with the USA, because we simply walked out to the baggage carousels with no further checks. It took a few minutes for the bags to arrive which we spent in amiable travel bragging with a couple who had been seated behind us in the plane; they were very obviously very well-travelled and we are polite people, so we let them win; the upside is that we got a couple of excellent tips for when we travel to the antipodes.
Whilst we were awaiting our bags, the driver who had been booked to take us into town joined us by the carousel and so once we’d picked them up we were swiftly off for the 15-minute drive to the Hilton Anchorage hotel, which will be our home for the next two nights. The weather was cool – just about 13°C, and slightly drizzly – but we’re optimistic that it will be dry tomorrow.
Our most important task is to arrange for pre-cruise Covid tests, theoretically available just down the road from the hotel. Our cruise line, Silversea, runs (at least on paper) a desk in the hotel lobby and so we hope to get firm guidance about testing there. Once tested, we hope to take a trolleybus tour of Anchorage to get some kind of idea about the place. That will be the subject of tomorrow’s entry, so do please come back and join me there.
Tuesday 9 August 2022 – On just the second day of a major holiday that my wife and I took to Canada (separately documented), we flew from Vancouver to Anchorage in order to take a cruise back down to Vancouver. We were really lucky with the weather conditions for that flight – for most of the journey there were practically no clouds and so we had fabulous views. If your bag is aerial views of lakes, mountains, islands and glaciers, then this page will be three bags full for you.
These photos are subject to the limitations of being taken (a) on mobile phones, albeit decent ones, and (b) through an aeroplane window. They’re not exhibition quality, but I hope they give you an idea of the treat we had as we looked out at the view.
As we started, the city of Vancouver was still under a bit of mist.
but the view from the other side of the plane, over Keats Island towards Grantham Landing was clear.
I could see the glacial water flowing down the Squamish Estuary
and Jane had a view the other side, towards Half Moon Bay.
The Squamish River winds its way between the mountains.
This was my view over some lakes near Icecap Peak
and Jane got a different perspective towards Half Moon Bay.
The procession of spectacular views, from each side of the plane, carried on as we headed roughly northwards,
including some of the distinctive turquoise of glacial water.
Varying rock types could be seen
and glacier formations, like this, just south of Silverthrone Mountain.
The variety of lakes, rivers and mountains continued as we headed north west above the Inside Passage,
until we reached Ketchikan, a place we’ll be visiting next week as we cruise back down to Vancouver.
There it is
just there, where the cruise chips can be seen!
Soon after that, as we drew level with Juneau, the clouds started to gather.
and, as a friend of mine once put it, we had a “map-reality disconnect”. This is what the real-time map, as displayed on my screen, showed
and this is what I could see looking out of the window.
We had cloud then for the rest of the journey to Anchorage, and we could only see the land once we got below the clouds coming into our final destination.
It had been a memorable flight, with some stunning views; it was a real pleasure to have been in the right place at the right time.