What an amazing couple of days!
Usually people come back from a vacation rested and content with their travels, but not me! My sleep-deprived body and blurry eyes are the results of unbelievable fun and adventure that I was lucky enough to experience these past four days in Alberta, Canada.
This was a trip long in the making. I went up to Canada with my parents and younger brother – our first real family vacation since my brother and I left high school almost fifteen years ago. It wasn’t made out of family obligation or to celebrate a wedding or anniversary. It was simply to spend time as a family away from the congestion of daily life.
I arrived within an hour of my brother’s landing early Wednesday afternoon at the small Calgary international airport. Breezing through customs, I was met by my brother and our friendly driver
whose thick Austrian accent clashed with his Canadian “ehs” that slipped into the end of his sentences every now and then. For the next two hours we drove through an array of flat plains, cattle, snow-brushed mountains, and thick forests before finally arriving at our first destination. Located in Banff National Park – Canada’s first designated UNESCO World Heritage Site – Lake Louise is a fairytale removed from the rest of the world.
Its lure is unmatched against any other place I have seen in a long time. The lake sits pristine near a small village, nestled amongst mountain tops and nearby hot springs. A thick opaque glass layers the surface of the lake and small spots of clear water reflect the mountains and sky. The high elevation forces my lungs to take in more of the crisp air. It is beautiful – both silent and pulsing with life all at the same time. The Fairmont Chateau stands majestic at the base of the lake. Its cream colored walls contrast with the rich dark green of the surrounding forests. Inside the walls are covered in colorful paintings depicting local wildlife and the long-lost heritage of the natives that once ruled. And after an afternoon of hiking and catching up with my family over a meal of bison burgers and dal machine that first day, I gratefully sink into my soft bed, weary from traveling and looming forward to what the morning will bring.
We spent two wonderful days at Lake Louise. Most of the time was spent in the local village, hiking around the lake or soaking in the hotel’s sauna. My Mom and I did manage to slip away for a few hours
and drive north towards the glacier park. We never made it there but did stop along the way at a few of the other lakes and hiking trails. Each one unique in its own right. My favorite was Bow Lake. Still relatively frozen I had to gently walk out and then do a few dance moves and yoga poses to convince my Mom it was safe enough to walk on. We drank ice cold glacier water and marveled at the Bow glacier tucked in between two mountain peaks.
On our way out of Bow Lake there was a group of cars randomly parked along both sides of the highway. At first we thought there had been an accident but no one looked hurt. We almost continued
on our way when I caught movement of something in my rearview mirror. “Stop!” I yelled. “Mom it’s a bear!” My shock and awe was pretty credible. Just the night before our server at the Chateau had told us he’d been working four years there and had only seen a grizzly once. So imagine our surprise when there one was – just strolling along the highway with his nose to the ground as if nothing was out of the ordinary. My Mom yelled at me to stop as I jumped out the car to take a picture but nothing was stopping this girl. I sheltered behind another car – the kind lady letting me know her side door was unlocked in case the bear got agitated – and hastily took a couple of pictures before jumping back in our car and speeding away. My Mom’s admonishment couldn’t hide her laughter. “Always the daredevil,” she said.
By the time we got back to the Chateau we were exhausted and exhilarated from out three hour journey. Not only that, but a bit giddy like kids too since the radio didn’t work and we succumbed to singing show tunes and Disney songs on the way back. It was a perfect mother-daughter bonding experience.
We spent our final two days and night in Banff. Banff is a small town at the heart of the national park. Primarily a resort town and one of Canada’s most popular tourist destinations, Banff caters to all types of outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, camping, and, the most popular type of activity in the area, skiing. Surrounded by mountains at all four corners, Banff has remained a small town with just under 10,000 permanent and temporary residents.
A five block main street is lined with trinket shops, art galleries, and pubs. Many of the shops carry
ammolite jewelry, a gemstone with all the colors of the rainbow and solely unique to Banff. It is estimated that gemstone supply will be completely mined form the ground in the next 6 to 8 years, so it’s no wonder that a small pendant goes for anything from $250 up to $10,000. Don’t even ask what jewelry sets and slabs of the material cost!
I was able to walk the length of the city and then down along the river’s edge in under an hour. It was easy to see why people from all around the world flocked to Banff. There were tourists from Japan, China, Russia, South America, and even South Africa. I was surprised when I could detect accents from all over the world and experienced a slight inner smugness when I could recognize where they were coming from.
Our final meal was held in one of the local pubs, Henry’s. We enjoyed locally brewed beer (though I prefer Belgium by far), bison meatballs, and elk burgers. The crowd was rowdy as NHL playoff games were being played on the TVs crowded into dark corners and above the main bar. We laughed and reflected back on our brief trip. When we left for the airport the next day we said goodbye to the small town and peaceful quiet of the Canadian mountains – our parents on their way to Vancouver and my brother and I back to California and the grind of everyday life.
Similar to when I arrived it was a breeze getting through the security and pre-customs check at Calgary international airport. So much so that we had about 4 hours to kill before our flight to San Fran in the small waiting area. Thank goodness for beer, hockey, and books. Oh and duty free shops too!
When I finally got back to San Diego it was nearly midnight. I took out the small soapstone sculpture I had purchased to remind me of the trip. Made by one of the local tribes, it represents the “false face” to ward off evil spirits and provide healing powers to those who are ill. It sits on my small, turquoise cabinet, watching over me and a constant reminder of the new memories I just made.
It’s been a long time since I went on a trip that really meant so much to me. Turns out Lake Louise was my Grandmother’s favorite spot. She passed away just a week before we flew up there, so in a away it was a nice way to remember Grandma and reconnect with family. I would love to go back up to Banff and then make my away across the mountains to Vancouver.
Just add it to my wanderlust list!