Our plans are pretty straightforward today—visit the Conrad Mansion in Kalispell, have lunch in Whitefish, and devote the rest of the day to watching the men’s final of the U.S. Open.
Kalispell is about 15 minutes away and since the tour is first come, first served with a maximum of twenty people every hour, I am a little jittery when we pull up at 9:50. I need not have worried since the only one waiting is the welcome cat who is very pleased to see us.
Soon enough we are ushered into the house for our tour with two other couples and two kids. The twenty-three room shingled Victorian style house was begun in 1892 and completed in 1895. It was the home of Charles E. Conrad, a late 19th century shipping businessman and early pioneer of Kalispell. In addition to shipping, Conrad was involved in a number of different businesses including real estate, banking, cattle ranching, and mining. The house was bequeathed to the city by his daughter who was a bit of a pack rat which led to 90% of the furniture, pictures, and knick knacks being original to the house. Alas, no photos are permitted in the house and there are very few on the internet.
The house has all the modern conveniences of the day flush toilets, electric lights, a communication system within the house, water fountains, and even a dishwasher! There was a large staff of 24 half of whom worked outside on the grounds and stables and the other half inside.
After our interesting tour we ride around Kalispell admiring the many Victorian houses, large and small. On Main Street downtown there are two prominent buildings. The Grand Hotel built in 1890 and amazingly still operating as a hotel…
and the Flathead County Courthouse completed in 1905. Charles Conrad spearheaded the effort to get Flathead County established and the courthouse built.
Lunchtime! We drive back to Whitefish to a brewery we espied last night when we had dinner. We have sandwiches and a beer.
Now we settle down to almost five hours of tennis followed by frozen dinners microwaved in the room. Since our favorite player, Roger Federer, is not in the final, we merely root against Rafa Nadal. The other player is a young Russian who almost wins. It would be nice to see someone else win for a change.
Tomorrow we leave Whitefish for Montana’s state capital, Helena. We are hoping to stop at the Train Depot Museum here in Whitefish before we go.
Today is one of those vacation days when there is not too much going on. We have to make the drive from Lake Louise to Whitefish, MT and there almost no towns in between. In fact there is a sign that warns you, “No cell reception next 60 miles!” So John and I have to make our own fun.
Our first leg is to drive almost two hours to Radium Hot Springs for breakfast. On the way we listen to the ongoing saga of the History of English. We are up to the 76th edition of the podcast and the development of English has gotten to 1132. Usually I cannot keep my eyes open during Professor Kevin’s relentless explanations but today he is talking about how gender got dropped from the English language and it is interesting. But we are distracted by…smoke?
Turns out it is steam from the hot springs. I read about the radium part and the springs are throwing up radon along with the steam. But no worries, according to Wikipedia there is not enough to kill you if you breathe or drink it. So we go ahead and stop at the Big Horn Cafe for coffee and a bagel.
On the way out we cross a bridge over the springs.
After another couple of hours we reach the US border. We have had adventures at the border when we were younger—our car was searched, we were split up and searched in an immigration building crossing into Detroit. Back in the 70s border guards were confused as to whether John was a hippie draft dodger or a nerdy computer programmer. So I feel some trepidation as we approach the border. It is a non-issue. The guard looks at our passports, asks if the car is ours or a rental, and welcomes us home. Whew!
Not too far from the border is the town of Eureka, Montana and we stop for a late lunch at Front Porch Grill. They have a full order and a half order of fish and chips. We order one of each and it is pretty good.
Then we take a walk down Eureka’s Main Street to check out a former bank building that is on the historic registry. John refers to our doing this as urban archeology.
Finally we make it to our hotel in Whitefish, MT with an iconic white fish out front.
For dinner I have made reservations at Abruzzo Italian Kitchen in downtown Whitefish. I have been craving some Italian food. After sharing a meatball appetizer I have papardelle Bolognese and John has cacio e pepe. Both are good with maybe a bit too much grated cheese.
Today we take a look at Lake Louise from an adjacent mountain top down to Lake level. After a terrible room service breakfast of odd scrambled eggs and other delights, we head over to Lake Louise Gondola Rides. One of my Facebook friends has alerted me to the presence of mosquitos at the top of the gondola ride. We decide to go up when it is too cold for bugs to fly (below 55F). When we get up to the top of the mountain, it is full of views, not full of bugs. Thank you, Facebook friend!
There are some outstanding views from the observation platform.
We have bought a voucher for lunch at the top of the gondola ride. Even though the path down to the restaurant is quite downhill (hard on the knees) and subsequently steep on the way back (hard on the lungs) we are determined to use our voucher. We are treated to a front row table to enjoy the beautiful view.
Later in the afternoon we take a walk on the path around the lake. We were going to try paddling our own canoe but John is terrified that I will either fall getting into the canoe or fall getting out (with good reason) that he puts the kabosh on the canoe trip. We take pictures of the lake, of ourselves, and of the hotel.
Although we are not able to get a reservation for dinner at the Fairmont’s main restaurant, we do get one at the Poppy Brasserie. Our dinner is much better tonight.
Tomorrow we return to the U.S. our first night is in Whitefish, Montana near Glacier National Park.
It is a fairly long trip from Kelowna to Lake Louise. It is supposed to take about five hours but what with stops and a lot of construction it takes about seven hours. It would not be a road trip, or at least one that I have planned, if we did not stop along the way to see various quirky or interesting sights.
Around 11AM we stop in Sicamous at the D Dutchmen Dairy. People on the internet are raving about the ice cream and the farm animals. So we stop. I figure ice cream can count for lunch. I get coffee ripple and John orders chocolate chili pepper.
I figure that coffee ripple will be coffee ice cream with a coffee ripple in it. But no, it is some sort of beige ice cream with a chocolate ripple in it! What a disappointment! I eat a little and give the rest to John.
It is probably a good thing that we visit the farm animals after we eat the ice cream. Cows do not smell good and they walk around in their cow patties. Not exactly the picture one wants when eating their product. We also go in the calf barn. One month old calves are pretty big!
Oh, here is something unexpected, an historical site at a rest stop. We pull in to take a look. It is where the final spike was driven in by Sir Donald Smith on the Canadian Pacific Railroad in 1885. The Canadians, being a more modest people, celebrate their accomplishment with an iron spike rather than a gold one.
In the afternoon we are in the Canadian Rocky Mountains where British Columbia has been working on “4 lanes to Alberta” on the Trans Canadian Highway. The workers are busily blasting rock face, grading new road bed, and totally slowing the traffic down to a crawl. This gives me a chance to snap at least one spectacular view of the Rockies, the Mount Sir Donald peak.
The peak is named after Sir Donald Smith the same guy who drove in the last spike. Originally they were going to name it Syndicate Peak to honor all the rich men who had put up the money for the railroad but decided Mount Sir Donald had a better ring to it.
Shortly after 5 PM (we lose an hour going into Mountain Time) we arrive at Lake Louise. It is so beautiful. Our room has a view of the lake and it is such a pleasure to look out the window.
As we arrive there are three bus loads of old people checking into the hotel. They have taken every reservation for dinner at the two main restaurants until 9PM. We find a spot in the Fairview Lounge at a table. John has moules frites and I have smoked chicken papardelle with mushrooms and arugula. He deems his “good but not the best I have ever had”, low praise from John who loves everything and I deem mine “awful.” That is also low praise from me! Mine is so bland and under-seasoned that three applications of salt do not make a difference. The noodles have obviously been cooked in unsalted water and have not been finished in the bland chicken jus. As Scott Conant says on Food Network, if you don’t salt the water, there is no way to save the pasta afterward.
We take a walk outside and I snap a picture of Lake Louise at dusk.
Going wine tasting in the Okanagan Valley is a lot less expensive than in Napa or Sonoma! We visit three places and the most that is asked for is $5 and that is waived if you buy a bottle of wine! Much like at home the experiences differ—Tantalus Winery is pleasant and engaging, Summerhill seems rather bored, and Cedar Creek spends time ignoring us while catering to younger people. Plus these younger people are slamming California wines. I want to rebut their stupid claims but John is all philosophical saying, “If you can only be tall because someone else is on their knees, then you have a serious problem.” A quote from Toni Morrison. So I keep quiet and let them puff themselves up.
All the tasting rooms are quite new and modern. Many have restaurants attached. We have lunch at Cedar Creek. It is a beautiful day and we eat on their porch.
After lunch we go to the tasting room. I do not like anything Cedar Creek is offering.
The rest of the afternoon I spend getting my nails done at the Spa here at the hotel. It is a nice little treat for myself and John enjoys his alone time lolling about.
We have dinner at the bar tonight so we can watch the US Open. Nadal ultimately wins his match but not without Schwartzman of Argentina giving him a real fight. Other people at the bar are into the match as well. Everyone is for the underdog. We all cheer and groan together. It is fun.
We leave Whistler this morning with regrets that our time here has not been what we were hoping for. But, we are eager to start phase two of our vacation. Today we are heading to Kelowna in the Okanagan Valley. It is the Napa Valley of Canada. We plan on doing some wine tasting on Wednesday.
Today, though, we have mountainous territory to cross. There are very few towns but I think we will find some interesting stuff.
Our first stop is in Lillooet. In addition to being gold central and part of the Jade Trail, Lillooet is majority First Nations (the term used in Canada for its indigenous peoples.) When gold was first discovered here, the miners had the First Nations people do the prospecting jobs and the entrepreneurial miners had the gold sent to San Francisco for money. Of course the word leaked out that there was gold up in Canada and everyone came running putting an end to the original miners scheme. Lillooet became the second largest city west of Chicago. About 2200 people live here now.
Our first stop is at a Jade Trail monolith and the 23 Camels Bridge. The 23 Camels Bridge is so-named because in the late 1800s someone got the brilliant idea to import 23 Bactrian camels to use as mining pack animals. The camels scared the other animals, smelled horrible, and were very ornery. They released them into the wild after the failed experiment.
Then we go to the old plank bridge aptly named The Old Bridge.
After wending our way for another two hours we come to Merritt, BC. We stop at Brambles Cafe and have sandwiches and soup. Today’s soups are borscht and cabbage roll, both so homey and good.
It turns out that Merritt which is at least 60 miles from the nearest town is the country music capital of Canada! In addition to having a big music festival each year, they have the faces of their favs adorning the sides of their buildings.
Those are just a couple. They are all over the place!
After Merritt we drive another hour and a half to Kelowna, a bustling resort town on the edge of Okanagan Lake. The area is known for its wine. Tomorrow we will taste some.
We are supposed to be taking the gondola up the mountain and along with some sightseeing have lunch at the top of the mountain at Christine’s. We have eaten up there before and I figure we will enjoy our Labor Day burgers with a world-class view. We get in line for tickets to ride up the gondola and the senior price is $65 EACH! No way are we paying that much to have a repeat view. So we settle for lunch at the base of the mountain.
We spend the rest of the day reading and playing games on our iPads. This trip to Whistler has not worked out as we anticipated. We share a small pizza for dinner.
Happy September! We are on our way to Whistler, BC with a couple of stops along the way. We are driving on the Sea to Sky Cultural Highway which is reminiscent of CA 1 down towards Big Sur. Both are really beautiful and cut into the sides of the mountains that rise from the sea.
Oh, before I go any further here is a thing that had us quite perplexed. This sign is in the parking lot of the hotel we stayed in.
Turns out that a sleeping policeman is a speed bump in Brit-speak and I guess in Canada-speak too!
After dealing with the sleeping policeman we are on our way up to the British Columbia Mine Museum. The Britannia Mine was the largest copper mine in the Empire and the worst polluter in North America. It was closed in 1974 and after a massive clean-up in the early 2000’s it reopened as a museum about mining and how to deal with the toxic brew of pollutants afterwards.
Our entrance ticket gets us passage into the museum and mining out-buildings, a train ride through the mountain in a mining shaft, and a film called BOOM!
The main ore that was mined at Britannia was chalcopyrite and then they extracted copper from it. In later years after it was no longer profitable to extract copper, the company went into the zinc business.
Inside the museum we see a bunch of exhibits about mining. John is committing this all to memory. I know there will be a quiz later (and I will fail!)
There is also a set-up where you can pan for gold.
We wander around the grounds until it is time for the train through the mountain. I, of course, need to take a picture of John next to a giant tire of an even giant-er truck.
Soon it is time to climb the almost 50 steps up to the train location. It is a slow process for me since my left knee does not like to do stairs. But we get up there and don our hard hats and board the train.
During the time in the mountain it is really too dark to take pictures. Our guide shows us various drilling tools and even has a working one which is very noisy. She explains that the mining process (which Canadians say with a long o) which is drill, dynamite, muck out over and over again. The mine worked on three eight hour shifts so it was always in use. After the train trip we see the presentation of BOOM! It explains how the ore is taken from the exploded rocks down the mill which is built into the side of the mountain and with each step the ore gets smaller until it ends up as a slurry at the bottom. We get to hear how noisy it was for the miners to work in the mill. They only had cotton balls as ear protection so many miners had hearing loss.
We really enjoyed the mill museum and learned a lot about the life of the miners, the process of extracting ore, and the environmental problems of abandoned mills.
We make one more stop on our way to Whistler and that is to another cider manufacturer. Big difference here that we did not realize until we got our flight of cider is that this cider was alcoholic! About the same strength as beer. In our flight of cider we had regular apple cider, peach apple cider, blood orange apple cider, and tequila lime apple cider. I liked the blood orange apple cider the best. We decided we better have something to eat with since it was alcoholic so we shared some pork belly tacos. (Mexican ethnic food! We must have six or seven ethnic food types so far on the trip!)
Finally we make it to Whistler. We are staying at the Four Seasons which is a really nice resort. We get there around 3:45 and check-in is at 4:00. They tell us our room is not ready. So we sit in the lobby and wait. Supposedly it will be ready “shortly.” John checks at 4:15 and it is still going to be ready “shortly.” At 4:45 (after I have already had a short nap in the lobby amid all the hustle of people checking in and getting their rooms) John goes back and in his scary Dad voice (our kids’ description) tells them that the situation is unacceptable and they should do something about it now. So a manager finds us a room, carries my luggage, apologizes profusely, and gives a $250 credit to use at their restaurants etc. for our inconvenience. I think having an old lady snoring in their lobby might have helped things along.
Later we go down to spend some of our $250. It is really easy to use the credit since everything is really expensive. We get some chicken wings and hummus with vegetables and pita.
We are spending two days here in Vancouver. Today our plan is to go to Stanley Park, one of the largest urban parks in the world. We have discovered that Canadians celebrate Labor Day too, except they call it Labour Day. This is Labour Day weekend and all the trouble I went through to avoid the holiday crowds in the U.S. is for naught. So we head out to Stanley Park as soon as it opens hoping to avoid some crowds.
Our first stop is at the Aquarium. There are not many people here yet. Yay!
Inside there is a lot of information on keeping plastics out of the sea environment. Plastics break down into micro-plastics which find their way into fish and birds. Here are some exhibits we see.
All the exhibits show the links to British Columbia—where each specie lives and what its habitat is like.
We also see a 4-D movie which is really for kids but we enjoy it. There are lots of bubbles floating around and when there is a splash we get squirted. It is fun.
After leaving the aquarium we drive around the park stopping to look at different things. There is a good view of the Lion’s Gate Bridge which we came over. I was not driving!!
We also stop at the hollow tree. It’s a dead Western Red Cedar. It apparently means a lot to the people of Vancouver because when it was damaged in a storm in 2006 and the park wanted to remove it, a big todo was made and money was raised privately to stand it back up and put a framework inside to keep it from falling down. What people do here is have their picture taken inside the tree. So that is what we did.
Later in the afternoon we go to Walmart to pick up a few needed articles like a new pillow and pillowcase to replace the one I left in Nanaimo. (Luckily they are sending it back.) We stop at Halima Grill for some lentils and brown rice. (More ethnic food!)
We don’t want to eat much today because tonight we are going out to our favorite restaurant which we try to make it up to Vancouver especially to eat in each year. Maenam is a Thai restaurant (another ethnic restaurant!) which was voted best new restaurant several years ago and is still living up to its accolade. Unusually, they have a five or six course tasting menu which gives you lots of small tastes. I also have to mention that John did a super job finding a parking space and parallel parking right across the street from the restaurant.
Next is a bunch of food pictures so we will remember what we had.
It is all delicious! Of course it is too much to eat and I have to let John finish up a few dishes which he doesn’t seem to mind at all!
Friday was a vacation from our vacation day. First we needed to get from Nanaimo on Vancouver Island over to the Canadian mainland. The ferry was a good way to occupy our time on a misty morning.
Since we had taken the 11:05 ferry, by the time we got to West Vancouver it was time for lunch. Our trip seems to be turning into the ethnic foods tour since we have eaten Italian, German, Indian, Ethiopian, and Middle Eastern foods so far, and Friday we opted for a bowl of pho at a Vietnamese place I found on Yelp. It was so good and you could adjust the spice level with some exciting looking condiments.
We checked into our hotel and John did some laundry and I finished my post from our trip to Nanaimo. We were still pretty full of pho when we went downstairs to the lounge where we could watch the U.S. Open on a big screen. We had a long conversation with a slightly drunk lady from Houston who had just dropped her daughter off at college for the first time. This was followed by another long conversation with a couple from Seattle who were celebrating their 11th anniversary. Who are the friendliest people in the world? Americans, especially when they are in foreign territory then we glom together on our little cultural life rafts. There was also live music and the entertainer also came over to join our conversation during his break. It was a pretty lively night for us.