Calgary and Banff

Trip Start Jan 19, 2006
Trip End Nov 24, 2006

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Flag of Canada  , Alberta,
Monday, June 26, 2006

So, we packed for the Rockies that night as soon as we got home from Victoria, and got up at something crazy like 5 to make the airport by 7am. We bid Paulo farewell as he went off to work (to finance said Rockies trip) and we drove to the airport. We checked our bags in - and we all agreed that it was probably the most high tech and user friendly system of all time, where you check yourself in with your confirmation number and it automatically prints out your boarding passes which you hand to the person when you put your luggage through. Very quick, no lines, no fuss. So once we checked everything in, we headed to one of the many restaurants at the airport and had brekky while watching the Aussie / Italy match. Didn't that just put a dampner on our day. As the email that went around said - we were "RIPPED HOFF". Gotta hand it to those Italians - more theatrics than actual skill.

So off we skipped to Calgary, where we managed to get ourselves lost trying to find the way to Banff National Park. Is it too much to expect signs around the airport area with signs? I guess so. Anyhoo, Marcus - our designated driver (and wildlife spotter extraordinaire) managed to get us there in a jiff - while the 3 chicas slept in the car, and then the scenery began! There isn't many words that can aptly describe the Rockies. They're pretty awe inspiring, and they just keep on going! Cameras don't do them any justice. So, on the first day in protest of the camera not doing the shots any justice, I threw my camera face down on a rock in such a fashion that it bounced 3 times on it's lens, forcing the lens to crack - rendering my 6 month old beauty into early retirement. Ok, so I didn't do it out of solidarity with the Rockies, it was more that I was trying to get a shot of marmot with my other camera and hastily passed by digital camera to Marcus when we had a bit of a fumble and the camera hit the deck. Those of you who know me, know how much I adore my digital camera - take it everywhere I go, mostly use it every day, and constantly say, "I love my digital camera" to the point of irritation. So, knowing this about me, and seeing a girl in the Rockies next to a beautiful lake balling her eyes out for 90 minutes wouldn't seem that unusual. I think the busload of Japanese tourists thought I was mourning a loved one (which I guess I was) who met their fate at that very lake. The rest of the day I spent puffy eyed on hikes while Amanda and Marcus tried to cheer me up. :o(

So after many mountains and lakes later, we made our way up the most beautiful drive in the world, The Icefields Parkway and found our accommodation at Lake Louise Township. We hastily booked it at 11.30 after getting home from Victoria on Having only had 1 unfortunate experience - which turned out to be quite fortunate, we decided we'd stick with wotif and book a room, which seemed pretty nice for $99 per night. We arrived in our usual late fashion. Around 10pm and Amanda went to check in. 20 minutes later she came out with a look of 'Don't mess with me' on her face and promptly explained to us that they've never heard of us, and we can have a room for $170 if we wanna stay here. Hahah! We thought it was quite amusing, Amanda didn't. Anyhoo, after they charged us to use the Internet to print of our confirmation email - they let us have the room for $99 and off we went to our room. And up the 3 flights of stairs with all the baby gear! Somehow prior to all this, I had coerced Marcus into coming and taking night shots with me so I could capture the star trails where there would be no lights or moon. I checked the moonrise times etc, and we had about a 2 hour window between sundown and moon up time. So, off we went after a looong day out to take photos. We were sitting in the car in pitch black and I'm sorting out my camera, when it occurs to me, that I don't know if bears sleep during the summer. Neither of us know the answer, or would really know what to do if we saw one - so we're sitting in the car trying not to freak ourselves out - then I mentioned that Cougars are actually worse than bears as they stalk you until you are past them and the pounce on your back and pin you face down on the ground and kill ya. Having satisfactorily terrified ourselves, I slowly opened my car door and set up my camera and set up the shot on the tripod. After 6 minutes go by, a car comes out of nowhere and I have to shut off my camera so the lights don't blow out the shot. Way too tired and way too terrified for round 2, we take off in search of a less terrifying spot. After a bit of cruising around, the dehydration headache - not unlike what I imagine a tumor would feel like, comes on - and figuring I'd cried a lot more out of my eyes than I had drunk in water that day - we had back to the room to rehydrate and sleep. Amanda meanwhile is tending to 'nocturnal child' who has taken to sleeping ALL day in the car, and night time while she's not strapped into a car seat seems to think it's play time! I think she gave my tears a run for their money that night! Maybe she was upset about the camera too....?

We certainly didn't need a bear bell the next day as we hiking around Lake Louise (there was a sign advising that there was a bear in the area). We had Ava, who had recently learned how to sing. Clearly at such a young age she has problems controlling THE VOLUME OF HER VOICE and managed to scare off any marmots, or cougars, or bears (oh my - sorry, it had to be done). We deemed that day, the day of the lakes. As we headed up the Icefields Parkway, we probably saw about 6000 lakes. Each one more beautiful than the next. It really was amazing. This part of the world is incredible. How those lakes get so blue - I don't know. Something to do with sediment or som'n - but I tell ya what... they're pretty incredible. We went up the summer gondola of the Lake Louise Ski resort and took in the views - which were also amazing. Hard to find an average view in the park! As we headed further North on our way to Jasper National Park, we picked up an accommodation brochure - abandoning the trusty we started calling places from the book (yep, there's cell service all the way up the road!) and managed to find a reasonable place 60kms out of Jasper. So up we trekked with John Denver belting out this Rocky Mountain High as best he knows how on the wireless. Having seen very few animals on our journey we were staring to think wildlife was a myth. But we managed to spot a few as the road got a little less traveled, and we headed out of Banff and into Jasper National Park.

As we headed off the main road and onto a little windy road up to our accommodation at the Miette Hot Springs - we came around a corner to quite a sight... A brown bear with two cubs. Boy did we luck in. We did exactly what we were told not to do. I'm an environmentalist at the best of times, but even I - couldn't bear (haha) the thought of passing by without taking as many photos as humanly possible. They were munching out on some grass on the side of the road, and as luck would have it - strolled slowly across the road in front of us all in a row (mumma, bubba and bubba) right in front of our car, and then came back toward us on the other side of the road as they munched their way down the road. It was like they didn't even know we were there. We had what seemed like 5 minutes (but was probably only 3) completely alone with these incredible animals that could have eaten US for dinner! Man, it was RAD. Meanwhile, Ava is going OFF in the back - screaming her guts out completely OVER being cooped up in the car (as it is once again 10pm - another 12 hour day on the road) But even then our car, the bubba, our snapping cameras... they didn't even look at us. On an absolute wildlife high we CACKED OURSELVES all the way to our accommodation about how lucky we were. 2 cars drove by in the other direction just after we had driven off - so we were just sooo lucky that we had that time with them. So lucky. What an absolute highlight it was for all of us!

We arrived at our accommodation and promptly spotted a deer. Being all out of film, and needing to get more out of the boot, I was about to jump out when Amanda spotted a wolf. There was no way in the world that she was going to let me out of the car, and in her best 'mum voice' she bellowed "DO NOT GET OUT OF THE CAR" - So, like any good daughter - I did as I was told, and the wolf continued stalking the deer. We thought we were going to see a Discovery Channel style 'the hunter vs the hunted' episode. It was all on... the intensity... the pressure. The unsuspecting deer... and just like that, the wolf came from behind the tree, and turned out to be a husky on a lead - being taken for a walk. We were in HYSTERICS all the way to our accommodation!!!!!!!!!!!

Luckily our check in to this hotel was incredibly easy. She gave me a card to fill out - and got me a key right away. Then her husband (they were a cute old Greek couple) asked us how many people we had staying, we told her 3 adults and a baby, and they upgraded us to a suite for the same price! "You haf baby, you nid big room" Go the upgrade!! Anyways, it was very cute. Very retro - not in a good way, but roomy and great.

Jasper itself was a very cute town, we had very limited time to check it out unfortunately, but it had a weird vibe of feeling like a little beachside town, but surrounded by these incredible mountains. Really cool.

The following day, we headed up to the Hot Springs. They are naturally some ridiculously hot water around 55C which they cool and pump into not so natural seeming pools of 37 degrees C. so we floated around in them for 30 mins while soaking up the mountain views. A very nice way to start off the day. We headed South to the Athabasca Glacier where we did a tour in an ice Tundra vehicle onto the Glacier. We got a chance to walk around a safe area of the glacier and fill up our water with real water! They told us all sorts of amazing information about some of the mountains, and how the glacier had retreated (or melted) about 1km over around the last 150 years. Not good. The glacier it's was one of the biggest in the world - about 3 times the size of Vancouver (from memory) and one of the mountains feeds 3 oceans via various river systems! 1st not surprisingly is the Pacific, 2nd is the Artic, and the 3rd goes all the way to the Atlantic! Amazing stuff.

After our tour ended we leisurely made our back down the Icefields Parkway and made a few stops at various sights that we missed on the way up. We had afternoon tea at the Banff Springs Hotel - which is an amazing old stone hotel - feels really European. Stone walls inside, dark and cool. But oh so posh! We really fit in well there. Every view in one of their many restaurants, bars and café's had an outstanding view. It was great. Banff town site itself was also very cute. A real nice feel. Would LOVE to go back in winter.. We'll have to see how it all pans out tho! Then eventually we headed back to Calgary for our flight home and walked in the door exhausted at about midnight!

The rest of the week and weekend we did local stuff, went out for dinner and had planned to drive to Seattle for the weekend, but having gone through copious amounts of money and energy we decided to stay local and take it easy in Vancouver. Plus Ava was enjoying being able to move around and not be strapped into a car seat, so we thought we'd give her a chance to learn how to crawl. Which she did, which we happened to catch on video. I would have caught it on mine, but the lovely camera fixers of Vancouver told me in no uncertain terms that it was time to retire the camera and buy a new one.

We spent the rest of the time going up to Grouse Mountain on the gondola and seeing fab views of Vancouver, visiting their Grizzly Bear enclosure, going swimming at the beach (believe it or not) - today is raining and about 10 degrees - and generally having a relaxing time.

It's a vacation that had no stress, (other than money!), no pressure and plenty of new jokes were created to be repeated over and over! It was great!

P.S For future reference, bears eat 20 hours a day in summer...
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