Sometime in early 2013, we though that we should go on a vacation during summer. Putting aside the usual vacation destinations, such as Florida, Mexico, Cuba, cruise to Caribbean, we decided to explore Canada. It is somewhat strange that Torontonians travel thousands of kilometres into USA, Mexico, Cuba, Europe and Caribbean destinations, while most have not travelled outside the radius of 300 KM from Toronto.
Two years ago, we visited east to Nova Scotia and PEI, so now it was time to travel west. We booked a nine day bus tour from Toronto to Vancouver operated by Tai Pan Tours. (It was to celebrate 25 years of our married life, and to also test if we can stay together 9 days on the tour.) Our children were busy during summer, so in the end, just two of us were on the tour. Travelling over 5,000 KMs by bus was a bit chilling in the beginning. Besides, the bus seats were not very comfortable, though it had everything else in excellent condition; a pleasant surprise was WiFi which enabled us to remain in contact with the outside world and share pictures.
Usually, most of the tourists on the tours operated by Tai Pan Tours are of Chinese origin, however, for a change, out of the Fifty-six tourists on this bus, eight were of Indian origin, three from Mexico and three from Ireland. The tour started from the Pacific Mall, Markham at 8 am on Saturday, July 13 towards Sudbury, the Nickel town. After a brief stop for lunch and at the Big Nickel, the bus continued its journey towards Sault Ste. Marie on a scenic Trans Canada Highway route along Lake Huron and a river. After covering a distance of around 700 KMs, we reached Sault Ste. Marie. The Delta hotel, where we stayed is located on the bank of Saint Mary’s river. We enjoyed the evening and sunset on a beautiful boardwalk along Saint Mary’s river.
Next morning, the bus resumed it northward journey along Lake Superior to Thunder Bay. This route is very scenic as it goes along huge Lake Superior. Just outside Thunder Bay is located the Terry Fox memorial, where we stopped to pay our tributes to Terry Fox. This is the spot where he was forced to end his Marathon of Hope cross-country run in Septerber 1980 as the cancer reached his lungs and he could not run any more. In the evening, the tour guide took us to the marina for a stunning view of Lake Superior.
Next day morning, the bus proceeded westward towards Winnipeg. Around noon, we reached the beautiful Lake of the Woods, located at the border of Ontario and Manitoba. Ontario is a big province and the Trans Canada highway winds through hilly forest area around lakes for most of the route, therefore, bus travelled around 80-90 KMPH most of the time.
Lake of Woods
It took us almost two and half days to cross Ontario into Manitoba, the first province in Canadian Prairies. The Praries region is very flat and fertile, and is responsible for most of the crops of wheat, canola, barlay and oats in Canada. The bright yellow colour canola fields look stunning.
In Winnipeg, we had a guided tour of the Royal Canadian Mint. It was interesting to learn that the Mint produces coins for over 70 countries, whose flags are proudly displayed outside the beautiful building.
Next day, we visited the impressive Manitoba Legislative building in Winnipeg before proceeding to Regina.
Manitoba Legislative Building, Winnipeg
Regina is a small, well designed, neat and clean city where we visited the impressive Legislative building and RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) museum. Since we have been travelling north-west, the days are getting longer, and it felt like evening time even at 10 pm and sun is already up in the sky by 5am. The day will become even longer as we travel to Edmonton tomorrow.
Garden at Legislative Building, Regina
Edmonton is famous for West Edmonton Mall, which is the largest shopping mall in North America and was the largest mall in the world until 2004. The most impressive attractions of the mall are Ice Palace, Waterpark, Adventure Golf, thrill rides, Sea Lions Rock, besidies hundreds of shops and stores.
It is day six now and our bus leaves for Calgary on route to Rocky Mountains. In Calgary, we stopped to visit the Calgary Tower to have a panoramic view of the Calgary city. The Calgary Tower looks like a joke because while until 1998, it was the tallest structure in Calgary, now several buildings at stones throw distance from it stand hundreds of feet taller. While two weeks ago, the entire downtown Calgary was shutdown due to floods, there was not even trace of any flood or mud now! I noticed something interesting near the Calgary Tower, a beautiful historic pedestrian only street.
View of the Calgary city from Calgary Tower
In the afternoon, our bus leaves towards the Banff National Park, Rocky Mountains. This is going to be the highlight of our tour. Within an hour or so, we get the first glimpse of the gigantic Rocky Mountains. As the road passes through the valley, the mountains suddenly turn beautiful giant. Around 3 pm, the bus reaches Lake Minnewanka (Water of the Spirits), where we take a guided tour of the stunning glacier lake on a boat. Next, we took a cable car (gondola) to Banff Sulphur Mountain, which offers a panaromic view of the Banff National park. That night, we stayed in the tourist town of Banff.
It is day seven now and the bus laves for Jasper National Park. On the way, we had a brief stop at a stunningly beautiful glacier lake Peyto. It was early morning, the greenish colour water was absolutely calm and the mountains were reflecting in the lake surface, as if it was made of glass. Everyone was taking so many pictures, but no pictures can do justice to this gift of the nature. Next, the bus moved toward Columbia Icefields, where a specially designed snowcoach (Ice Explorer) took us atop Athabasa Glacier with ice being up to 300 metere thick. It was a strange experience to walk on the Glacier and to drink the real glacier water.
Next, stop on day seven was another stunningly beautiful, “The Jewel of Rockies” – Lake Louise. The scenery is fantastic with reflections of mountains in the lake. However, as soon as we arrived at the lake, the weather suddenly changed and it started raining. Those who had umbrellas (including my wife and I) continued to walk in the rain admiring the lake and its surroundings, as we only had a stopover of half an hour.
It is day eight now. We have left the Rocky Mountains behind and our bus is travelling fast toward Vancouver. While the memories of the past seven days are still fresh, we have started thinking about the next leg of the journey back to Toronto. The bus journey, though not very comfortable, was not tiring. While most of us will fly back to Toronto tomorrow, about 16 people will continue on the bus tour for another eight days through USA back to Toronto. Even the 5,300 tour from Toronto to Vancouver is perhaps one of the longest bus tours in the world.
Vancouver gets lot of rain and the moisture helps the tree to grow fast. We saw a few huge trees in Stanley Park. Another interesting attraction was the musical Steam Clock, operated by a steam engine in Gastown (Chinatown), Vancouver.
A Huge Tree in Vancouver
It is day nine. We wake up late as we don’t need to accompany the bus to the next city. In fact, the bus has already left for USA on its journey back to Toronto. After a small walk around the hotel, we enjoyed the breakfast in the hotel and then took a shuttle to the airport. While the journey to Vancouver took eight days, the return journey took only four and half hours.
I look forward to go on a similar tour in the near future.
To view more pictures, click link1, link2 and link3.