A Travellerspoint blog

Banff

Day 9

sunny 1 °C
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Saturday 17 Dec 2011

It was nice to have a sleep in and a leisurely morning, however we ended up being a little too leisurely and therefore a little late for our pick-up at 10.15 for our transfer to Banff. It was a luxury coach with only 11 passengers! The route gave us more views of the Canadian Rockies. It doesn’t seem real to be in such an unforgiving-looking landscape.

Banff is very commercial, having side-by-side lodges, inns and hotels, and side-by-side souvenir shops along the main street. We are staying at the Mount Royal Hotel, and the Aussie lass (originally from Oakey in Qld) on duty at the reception desk recommended an Irish pub nearby. The St James’ Gate Olde Irish Pub looks and smells like an Irish pub. It serves steak and Guinness pie, which was very large and came with an ‘emerald’ salad. I think Robyn found her Hunters Pie similarly filling. We had a look at a shopping centre and found many of the same chains of shops as at home – Lush, Billabong, Benetton. We also found a Western outfitters, Lammle’s, which is a chain here in Canada. And the entire male staff on duty (3 young men) all come from Brisbane, and further, all lived in suburbs either the same as, or close by, where Robyn lives.

We’ve also crossed paths a few times with the mother of Aussie actor Ryan Johnson who has been signed for a second season of a US series called Fairly Legal. He’s another Brisbane boy and has been in quite a few Aussie TV shows, films and theatre productions.
The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies was our highlight today. An exhibition called Women of Fibre: Mary Garnham Andrews and Articulation showed what can be done when creativity and fibre come together. Mary Garnham Andrews is a 95 year old Banff artist and master weaver whose work over the years has covered all styles and shapes of weaving. Articulation is a group of fibre artists whose work in the exhibition was inspired by items in the museum’s collection. Most interesting was the museum’s other main exhibition – The Stuff of Legend: The Luxton Family in Banff and the Bow Valley featuring High Fashion in the Rockies. The fashion was fascinating – evening gowns, feather hats, fur muffs, gloves, beaded purses and embroidered shoes. Norman Luxton must have been a man of great vision and energy, among other things owning the local newspaper and campaigning for local management of Banff affairs, rather than management from far-off Ottawa.

Treats for the day were black bear paws from a chocolate shop (a caramel and nut mix covered in chocolate and decorated with 3 cashews for the claws) and Cow ice-cream which comes from Prince Edward Island in eastern Canada. Cow ice-cream is supposed to be the best in the world. It was pretty good but Robyn reckons Mammino’s ice-cream from Childers in Qld is better.

Posted by jrp_pedal 18:14 Archived in Canada Comments (2)

Lake Louise

Day 8

snow -2 °C
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Friday 16 Dec 2011

Our pick-up was at 7.15am this morning for our transfer to Lake Louise – it was freezing and black dark at that hour. The other travellers going the same way looked like they would rather be in bed still. The SunDog Tours bus (which looked a little like a north American school bus but not yellow) arrived a little late but the driver was cheerful and courteous. Our route was the Icefields Parkway which was mostly icy with grit or fine gravel to provide traction for the vehicles. We had one comfort stop with a view of a frozen waterfall. The snow and ice were just amazing and the Canadian Rockies look so craggy and wild and savage and rocky – grey rock overlaid with snow here and there, and sometimes some snow encrusted fir trees clinging to ledges.

It was snowing slightly when we arrived at Lake Louise, much to Robyn’s delight. We were too early to check-in at our accommodation at Deer Lodge so sat in the lounge in front of the fire for a while before lunching on a tasting plate of local delicacies such as game paté, shavings of air dried smoked bison, elk salami, pepper smoked duck breast and cranberry relish. After lunch we walked up to the Fairmont Lake Louise to check out how the other half lives. The lake itself is mostly frozen – incredible to think that Jim and I paddled in a canoe on it in summer 2007. We booked ourselves a sleigh ride and it was just wonderful. Two enormous Percherons pulling a big sleigh carrying 14 people, 3 children and 1 dog took us along the side of the lake and back. Forty-five minutes through the gently falling snow to the tune of sleigh bells was definitely a highlight.

Back at the Fairmont we sampled their hot chocolate which came luxuriously garnished with chocolate curls and accompanied by home-baked ginger and almond cookies. By then the snow was falling faster and it was time to check in at Deer Lodge. Robyn tested the snow on our way back by lying in it! She found it cold and wet.

Deer Lodge has both a hot tub (outdoors on the roof) and a sauna, however, we spent so much time over our dinner and the accompanying bottle of wine that it was too late to take advantage of these amenities. On the other hand, we did hear one of the guests taking advantage of the piano in the lounge – a delightful end to a winter wonderland day.

Posted by jrp_pedal 19:58 Archived in Canada Comments (1)

Jasper

Day 7

semi-overcast -3 °C
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Thursday 15 Dec 11

Looked out our window at 7am this morning and it was snowing! Definitely winter!

We ordered one breakfast special – two eggs, two bacon slices, two pancakes and two slices of toast – and two plates, and that meal was plenty for two. We could probably manage quite well on one meal between two most meals, given the size of the servings.

At 9am the SunDog tours van arrived to take us on our Wildlife Tour. Picture 10 tourists and one guide standing around looking at various paw and hoof prints in the snow, and then 10 tourists peering at coyote pee and poo learning about scent marking and how to tell what an animal has been eating. We also walked on water – frozen to a depth of at least a foot – to see what a beaver lodge looks like from the outside. A few wapiti (aka elk) and musk deer were too far away for photography but some bighorn sheep were obligingly grazing by the roadside. Bald eagles rested in a couple of tree tops and ravens feasted on the remains of something unidentifiable, however the coyotes and wolves declined to appear in person and the moose were likewise elusive. The guide was knowledgeable and had lots of wildlife stories so the morning passed very quickly.

We toured the town in the afternoon, looking at the shops and houses. It was below freezing so we were well rugged up but since the stores are heated, it can become uncomfortable to spend any time indoors unless shedding at least one layer as you enter. It reminds me of my last month or so at Laramie this time two years ago.

Posted by jrp_pedal 18:30 Archived in Canada Comments (1)

Vancouver en route to Jasper

Day 6

semi-overcast 0 °C
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Wednesday 14 Dec 11

It’s never easy to sleep on a train so I can’t claim to have had a good night’s sleep and Robyn I think fared even worse. She must have been prowling during the night because she was able to tell me there had been a delay caused by a broken track.

We spent our day moving back and forth between the dome – terrific views but a little chilly – and the lounge – excellent view of the track rearward – and our seats – great views out the right hand side of the train. It was a clear day and we were able to see Mt Robson, the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, highlighted by the sunshine. However we missed seeing the wolves that some others saw. We were only half an hour or so late into Jasper in spite of the delay, however it was already dark.

Robyn flashed her Queensland Rail ID and was invited to view the controls of the loco, which she was really excited about.

There must be a limited number of taxis in Jasper because the one driver seemed to be doing all the transporting of disembarking passengers to their respective hotels. We dined at our hotel, Chateau Jasper, but ran into a bit of a hitch when we were going to bed. We discovered hairs, not ours, on the pillows and came to the conclusion, upon further inspection, that the linen may not have been changed that day. Pressing the Front Desk button on the phone unfortunately got us to another guest’s room so there was some confusion until we dialled the front desk number using the keypad. A staff member appeared quickly to put clean linen on our beds, and we had a very early night to make up for disturbed/lost sleep on the train.

Posted by jrp_pedal 17:12 Archived in Canada Comments (1)

Vancouver en route to Jasper

Day 5

semi-overcast 3 °C

Tuesday 13 Dec 11

Our last day in Vancouver – sigh. The weather has been very favourable – mostly clear and around 3 °C maximum each day so our coats have been well used. We had a leisurely morning reorganising our luggage for the train to Jasper, and a late brunch before checking out (leaving our big bags for pick-up later). We had a free trip downtown on the trolley bus – the coin collection machine was not working. Strolling up Barrard St we passed the Fairmont Vancouver hotel (where we had afternoon booked for a little later) and took a look at the Christ Church Anglican cathedral – a beautiful old stone church with some lovely traditional stained glass windows and a modern pipe organ that has 2,500 pipes. Sadly no organist was in attendance.

Close to 2pm we strolled back around to the Fairmont Vancouver for our ‘tea at the Castle’ – in December it is Nutcracker Tea with a Christmas theme and accompanied by a harpist. What decadence! We selected our teas (Lavender earl grey for Robyn and Kangaroo lapsang for me) and ate our way slowly through two tiers of delicacies, both savoury and sweet. It was such a treat. The cinnamon scones were light, the savouries were tasty and the price not something to be disclosed!

Back at the hotel we collected our bags and said our goodbyes and thanks to the wonderful reception staff who had made our stay at the Best Western Plus Sands so enjoyable and trouble-free. Our public transport selection this time was one of the little community buses and the aisle between the seats made it quite a challenge to manhandle our baggage to a space at the back where we would not be inconveniencing other passengers. We went to the end of the line which was the VIA railway station where we would be taking a train to Jasper.

We were a little early so booked our big bags through and loitered in Macca’s using their free wi-fi. Later we met the representative from Brewster’s, the tour company through which we had booked our Winter Wonderland tour, and got our detailed itinerary and all our vouchers.
On the train, The Canadian, we were in ‘sleeper plus’ class which meant we had a semi-private cubicle of two seats which converted to two beds – upper and lower berths – which were closed off by curtains, and we shared toilet and shower with others in the same carriage. After free champagne and some fellowship with other travellers (including a several Australians) we found our beds prepared and settled in to our respective sleeping spaces.

Posted by jrp_pedal 16:57 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

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