Monday, July 4, 2016

48 hours in banff

This past Friday (July 1st), was my country's 149th birthday!  Happy birthday Canada, you're the best! :)

As is likely the case in most countries, we celebrate by shutting (almost) everything down, and calling a national day of partaaaaay for citizens and visitors alike.  We had planned on a little road trip up north to Ontario cottage country - but as the evening was winding down around 11 p.m. on Thursday night, we took one last look at the weather forecast for Canada Day in our neck of the woods, and it looked......crappy. :( East and west of the city within driving distance didn't look any better, so right then and there, we made a crazy decision to take our C-Day celebrations to an ENTIRELY different part of this great country of ours - Banff, Alberta!

Now, for those who may be unfamiliar with traveling in Canada - it's big.  Banff is no 3-hour drive from Toronto, it's a 3+ hour FLIGHT.  But as I've mentioned previously on this blog, we have the incredible good fortune to be able to make spontaneous decisions like this because my S.O. works for an airline - so as long as there are seats available, we're able to travel just about anywhere pretty inexpensively.  That said, we've NEVER made such a hasty travel decision before - but literally within minutes, we had our flight booked, hotel locked down, rental car reserved, and bags packed.  Calgary here we come!  Yeeeehawwww!

Amazingly, just about everything went according to plan for us - which isn't always the case when you fly standby.  But this time it must have been meant to be, because we not only had assigned seats on the plane, we were also able to book (through Aeroplan) one FREE night at what is probably one of the most famous hotels in Canada, if not the world - the Fairmont Banff Springs:

Views of the Banff Springs Hotel taken from Surprise Corner
Just look at that maple leaf flying high and proud atop that beautiful old hotel nestled deep in the Canadian Rocky Mountains!  It doesn't get any more Canadian than that my friends! :)

So as mentioned, we had one free night here (regular prices starting at $400+++ a night).  Upon our arrival, we were asked if we'd like to upgrade to a better room, because "the one you're currently booked into is located off property" (or did he say in the basement near the boiler room??) - whatever he said, he made it sound MOST unpleasant (scenes from The Shining started running through my head) - and I thought, okay, HERE'S the catch - but when I replied that it would depend on the cost of said upgrade, he said, "that'll be $40.00 ma'am - and you'll get a much larger room with a view, located in the main building". Well, HELL yeah!  True to his word, we were shown to a beautiful corner suite with views of the surrounding mountains, AND, as it turned out, a perfect vantage point from which to watch Banff's Canada Day fireworks! Bonus!

The hotel is located within the boundaries of Banff National Park, where the Canadian Rockies surround you (just wait, it gets better):

And again, as luck would have it - because it was Canada Day, admission was freeeeee!!

After refuelling with some delicious tacos at the hotel's outdoor patio restaurant (no photos, but trust me, the surrounding view was to die for), we took a late afternoon/evening walk into downtown Banff to check out the C-Day action.  As is the case with most tourist-driven towns, Banff definitely has its share of the ever-ubiquitous souvenir shops, chain restaurants, and area attractions - but this was no time to be a cynic!! We were in Banff on Canada Day! And what a beautiful town it is:

A view down Banff's main drag
(The above pic was taken quite early the morning after C-Day - hence the quiet streets). :)

We ended our evening stroll along the banks of the beautiful Bow River, with sounds of live music bouncing off the mountains around us from the park bandshell:

 ...and it was here that I started to feel a bit overwhelmed by all the natural beauty that surrounded us. This has happened to me before - during our visit to Yosemite National Park in California - where it all becomes too much to take in - and you are just simply and purely awed by the beauty of our planet. Walking along the river in the evening light and seeing sights such as this...

and this...

and this...

...I found myself wondering if I'm truly living the right life. Oh don't get me wrong - I know I have PLENTY to be thankful for (I mean just that fact that I'm able to travel to such a spectacular spot on moment's notice is reason for deep gratitude) - but these are the times where for a big city dweller/worker like me, you wonder what is it all for - and if the answer is the pursuit of the almighty dollar, just so you can live in an incredibly overpriced city that you can't truly afford to appreciate to the fullest...well, you know where I'm going with this. The sad reality is that we do need money to survive - but the older I get, the less I need or want - and a simple life lived in beautiful surroundings starts to look like a far more attractive option...(said probably EVERYONE at one point or another in their lives)...

Ah well - at the very least perhaps this little adventure will motivate me to make the small changes in my life that may eventually lead to me making/selling homemade jewelry/pottery/baked goods etc. etc. from a stall on a beach or a cabin in the mountains, and I'll never have to wear socks again!!!

Alrighty then!! I won't bore you further with my life's lament, so back to the travelogue it is - and what better way than to show you more photos of this most beautiful part of the world.  We had just about 48 hours in Banff National Park, and didn't want to waste a minute - so we woke up EARLY on Saturday morning (5:30 a.m.) and set out on a photo safari - first stop, the morning calm of the Vermilion Lakes, reflecting both Mount Rundle...

and Sulphur Mountain:

From there, we hopped in the car and took a short drive to Lake Minnewanka:

The sun still hadn't fully risen over Lake Minnewanka, but it was still a sight to behold.  However, just a little further up the road.....shazam!!

Two Jack Lake
We rounded the corner and came upon this spectacular sight - Two Jack Lake (where I filed away the fact that this was a campground), this time reflecting the other side of Mount Rundle.  Needless to say, our photographer's hearts did a little happy dance, and we spent quite a bit of time here watching the changing morning sun:

And just to put it all in perspective - here's a photo of Rob (on the right), with a fellow early morning photographer on the shores of Two Jack Lake:

Our early rise had been totally worth it.  Surprisingly, we didn't see too much wildlife - which would have been expected in the early morning hours - but we did catch sight of this poor hungry fellow (lady?) foraging in the woods - not the greatest shot, as I had to stretch my zoom to its fullest, but she (he?) is looking right at me...incredible.

By this time, we were ready to forage for food ourselves - so back to the hotel for an amazing buffet breakfast, and check out. :(  But we weren't done yet...

No trip to this part of the world can be called truly complete without a visit to what is probably THE most famous landmark in Banff National Park - Lake Louise.  I'd visited Banff once many years ago, and unfortunately was unable to view this most remarkable lake due to heavy fog - so I was excited that I'd finally be seeing it with my own eyes.  For a minute it appeared I may still not get a chance to see it, as there was a ridiculous traffic backlog on the off ramp leading to it - but persevere we did, and at long last, there she was - the beautiful turquoise lady, in all her glory:

Lake Louise
Curiously, on first sight, my initial reaction was mixed - perhaps it was because I'd seen so many photos of this natural wonder over the years, and it was just, "yep, there it is!" - or perhaps it was because, despite the tranquil scene above, just behind my lens, the shores were absolutely jam PACKED with tourists.  (I took photos, one of which can be found on my Instagram, but I'll leave you with the fantasy and spare you the reality on this blog). Yep, I know, I was one too, doing what everyone else was doing, coming to gawk at this otherworldly phenomenon - honestly, it's just SO beautiful it's hard to comprehend - it's as if it has been manufactured by Disney - or another thing that came to mind while watching those colourful little canoes paddle furiously all over the lake was the Venetian hotel in Vegas with its man-made canal and gondola rides.  Probably what made me the saddest though, was the fact that about 80% of the visitors to the lake were standing on the shores of this living testament to the beauty of nature with their backs turned to it - you guessed it - taking selfies.  Look - I get it, I do - we all want to share it, to prove we've seen it with OUR own eyes too - (yep, I took a selfie too) but it's still a sad commentary on how technology, for all the good it does, is also taking away from us.  There are many times when I really miss the pre-smart phone world - and this was definitely one of them. :(

Oops, there goes the cynic in me again!  Time to pop her back in the genie bottle and get on with sharing some more photos:

Lake Louise truly is one of the world's most spectacular sights/destinations - and please don't let my diatribe on the evils of selfies deter you from seeing this for yourself - people flock to it, and take selfies with it because it IS so spectacular - there's truly nothing else like it on earth.  Except maybe...Moraine Lake?

Moraine Lake
Rob had promised me that if I liked Lake Louise, I'd LOVE Moraine Lake - and he was right.  Situated about a 20 minute drive from Lake Louise in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, lies THIS otherworldly turquoise lake - NEVER have I seen such vivid natural colour in a body of water before - and set against the backdrop of those magnificent mountains, in a valley teeming with an unbelievable abundance of the most striking tall and narrow evergreen trees I've ever seen - this was an overwhelming treat for the senses.  Again, almost too beautiful to be believed...I could have sat at this vantage point for hours and just listened to the bird song in the air, felt the rush of mountain breeze swirling through the valley, and inhaled the sweet scent of the evergreens.  While the area is still a very popular destination for tourists, its rugged beauty seems to retain more of a sense of wilderness, perhaps due to its more remote location.  We'd truly saved the best for last.

That said, it's actually pretty difficult to put a rating on any of the sights we saw during our whirlwind 48 hours in Banff - it's ALL spectacular.  We clearly only just started to scratch the surface in visiting a few of the "must see" destinations in the area.  Someday if we have more time to spend there, it would be lovely to hike and/or bike one of the area's countless trails, or if we're feeling even more adventurous, I'd be game to rent a motorhome, find our spot in the woods, and just stay in one place and drink it all in.  As it is, it feels like we fit a week's holiday into two days, and I think we did our best to make every minute count.  Happy birthday Canada!  I really do love you. :)

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