The next morning, our tour group ran into an unexpected snag. Let’s talk about breakfast before we fast forward to the morning gong show at the Spruce Grove Inn.
Banff is not a very large town. It sits within the much larger Banff National Park. The town limits are set and are not allowed to expand beyond its current limits, lest it creeps into the national park.
We had finished our afternoon of touristy cliches, we were left to our own devices to for the whole evening. The stores along Banff Avenue would be closing up soon. It was a Sunday evening, so we had to work quick if we were to get a little window/real shopping in for the day.
I’ve been to Banff many times in the past. Having been born in Alberta, my family used to make day trips from a small town outside of Edmonton to Banff. This time, with the bus tour, we were here to do some touristy stuff – the Sulphur Mountain Gondola and the Upper Banff Hot Springs. Hooray for touristy clichés!
We had crossed the British Columbia-Alberta border before noon time. We had witnessed the rivers change from flowing westward to the Pacific Ocean to flowing eastward to Hudson’s Bay. We moseyed into Banff soon after. Before we headed for all the touristy attractions, we needed to grab food. If you guessed Chinese food (again), you’d be right.
Day 2 started early in the morning. What was it? A 6am morning call?! We dragged ourselves out of bed and cleaned up. We lurched onto our tour bus to our newly assigned seats for the day. Everyone got a chance to sit near the front of the bus, basically.
This morning, we were heading off to breakfast. I was really hoping that we’d be having breakfast at the Sandman Inn. I was really hoping for eggs, sausage, and maybe some awesome hotel waffles. No luck this morning. This morning, we were carted off to Downtown Revelstoke for (you guessed it again) Chinese breakfast.
We arrived in the tiny town of Sicamous just before 6pm. Sicamous is most famous as the houseboat capital of BC. What’s houseboating? It is exactly what it sounds.
It’s a giant two storey boat that can accommodate 10-24 people, depending on the model. It’s a popular summer activitiy in Sicamous, which sits on the giant Shuswap Lake. Folks rent these boats for days or a week and just take it around Shuswap Lake and sleep on them. It’s essentially an RV on water.
However, we weren’t in Sicamous for houseboating. Houseboating season hadn’t even started yet. We were here for (that’s right) Chinese dinner.
After a few hours of travelling along the Trans-Canada Highway from Surrey to Hope and then the snowy Coquihalla Highway from Hope, we arrived in the town of Merritt. Nestled in the Nicola Valley, Merritt is in the centre of the semi-arid valley that is home to some farmland and ranches. Merritt, to me, is best known for the Merritt Mountain Music Festival. That’s the largest country music festival in BC.
Well that’s not why we stopped here on our highway tour, we stopped here for lunch. And because we were on a Chinese-language tour, we were stopping for Chinese food.
My next few posts will focus on my travels during the Easter long weekend. My wife’s family, their family friends, and I (all 11 of us) boarded a tour bus bound for Banff early on the Saturday morning of the Easter Weekend. It was a 4 day/3 night tour with stops in Merritt, Kelowna, Vernon, Sicamous, Revelstoke, and Golden on the way up to Banff. On the way back, we made stops at Lake Louise, Rogers Pass, Revelstoke, Sicamous, Kamloops, Merritt, and lastly Richmond (of all places).
Apart from our first night at Chitose Airport, we hadn’t been to an onsen during the month in Hokkaido. We had discovered that there was a nearby onsen resort town called Jozankei (定山渓). The first time we heard about this place was through the lovely green mascot below.
That cute green mascot, my friends, is a kappa. Kappas are supernatural frogs of Japanese folklore. This particular kappa is using her powers of cuteness to reel in customers to the Jozankei onsen area. Just look at the wooden tub that she has to carry around with her to protect her modesty.
Hakodate is a city on the southernmost tip of the island of Hokkaido. It’s a port city that figures large in modern Japanese history. It’s the first city in Japan that the American Navy under Commodore Perry opened up to the world at the end of a period of isolation. An important battle at the end of Tokugawa Period and the beginning of the Meiji Era took place here as well. Hakodate is also known for its physical beauty because the city is situated on a tiny isthmus surround by the ocean on both sides and a mountain conveniently located at the southern end of the city to take in this scrumptious city and ocean view.
For our travels to Hakodate from Sapporo, we considered two different modes of travel. The train would have been faster and more comfortable ride, but the price was roughly ¥8,300 one-way/¥16,600 round trip. Looking at a train ride that costs about CAD$170 per person was not what we wanted to spend. Especially when I think of the time to get there as almost the same as a Vancouver to Seattle road trip.
Thankfully, one of our shared-house mates had done the trip to Hakodate previously and took a Chuo Bus. The round-trip ticket worked out to just about ¥8,000 round-trip per person. That was half the price of what it would have cost us by train. Being a transit traveller and passenger train geek, I would have loved to take the Super Hokuto train to Hakodate. However, our budget for staying a month in Hokkaido did not allow for such a luxury. The bus was way more economical.
By toll highway without any stops, the drive from Sapporo to Hakodate is just under 4 hours. However, we had a pit stop at a toll highway rest stop for a half hour and we deviated from the expressway a few townships before Hakodate. So our bus ride was more like 6 hours from station to station.
Ah yes. The day that we went to the Sapporo Beer Museum. This day will live in my memory for all the wrong reasons.
After our Japanese language classes had ended for the week, my wife and I had decided to hit up the Sapporo Beer Museum. This is the beer that bears the city’s name after all. Two of my wife’s classmates had decided to join us for our little outing too.
The museum is about a 25 minute walk from our school, but we didn’t feel like walking under the scorching midday summer sun. So we decided to take the bus. We checked in at an info desk in the Tokyu department store. The lady working there told us to take the #88 bus from bus stop #3 just outside the south entrance of the department store. Sounds easy enough.