20th June 2015
Safely made it to Banff, Calgary is really flat, but once out of the town, the Rockies loom up quickly,
and after an hour and a half, we have reached our hotel.
There is a secure underground car park, restaurant on the ground floor, a swimming pool on the second floor, but we are on the third, should be quiet as it faces onto the pool (see the window in the room)
All fine except the ‘present” left by the previous occupant in the bowl of the loo!!
After a hunt for a replacement satnav holder, (mine broke in transit), fresh fruit and milk, we set off for the Juniper Restaurant.for dinner. The view from the window is breathtaking, with the Banff Fairmont holtel, resembling a fairy castle, in the distance, and we have been given a window seat.
Sabrefissh for Rog and pork tenderloin for me, with free starters of warm focaccia with fig butter, delicious. Too stuffed for pudding, but the coffee was very good, if a bit lukewarm.
Back to the hotel for a wonderfully comfortable bed and apart from a beeping mobile phone about to die, (my fault, Rog not amused!) slept well until the morning.
Breakfast of orange juice, pancake, maple syrup, (me) plus bacon and scrambled egg for Rog (piggy!), strawberries, melon, grapefruit, toast and (again for Rog) Danish pastry . Coffee really good here too.
Weather grey and overcast, top of mountains disappeared, so off to Banff Hot Springs. Up the mountain, walk through the drizzle, get changed and lower ourselves into steaming hot outside spring water pool at 39 degrees C. There is an underwater bench with jacuzzi jets coming out where you can sit with just your head above water, absolute bliss!
Warm and relaxed, we returned to the centre of Banff, where it was still drizzling on and off, though there was a small patch of blue sky. We wandered round the shops, lots of local crafts. I found a quartz handbag charm, and then we discovered the Spirit of Christmas, and Rogers Chocolates – well we had to visit those! We got an angel Christmas tree decoration to add to our collection, and a couple of chocolate bars. We watched peppermint fudge being made, and then found the Clock Tower Brewery restaurant, where we had tomato, basil and bacon soup with crackers, and very good too.
Heading over the road, we went to the Banff museum, entirely built of Douglas Fir wood in the early 1900s. It was planned to make the most of the natural light, there being no electricily at the time, with the top floor designed like a lantern with windows angled to let in as much light as possible. It was filled with stuffed examples of all the local wildlife. Since the only wildlife I have seen so far is a small ground squirrel skittering across the hot springs car park, it was good to know what we might be seeing, though I will never remember all the birds!
We wandered back down Banff Avenue, and got tempted by another chocolate shop Mountain Chocolates, which was selling ice cream cones, including an orange ice cream, Roger’s well known craving, so we had to stop.
The weather had improved by this stage, the mountain tops were beginning to appear, and we sat outside in the sun, trying not to dribble ice cream on our clothes. We set off back to the car, but again got sidetracked by shops and then settled in Evelyns for coffee and shared a banana and oat sort of flapjack thing.
Back to the hotel, where we managed to work the dryer to get our swimming costumes and towels more or less dry, then out to the Buffalo Nations Museum. This was excellent value for money, with genuine First Nations Indian clothing, carts, tools, and showed the interaction between the ?Aboriginals, is that the right term, and the local animals, including the bison that they used for food and the skins for clothing. We saw the cradleboards where babies where wrapped in moss (the earliest form of disposable nappies!) and then strapped to a board and carried around or sometimes on the mother’s back. I would have thought they would have hated being pinioned like this once a bit older, but apparently they used to crawl around until tired, and then ask to go back on the board.
There were the Tipis (tents) which were far bigger than I had imagined, and we learned about the Sun Dance, where men had bones pushed through the skin of their chests and then pulled back until the skin tore the bones out, as part of an initiation ceremony – looked very gruesome!
The clothes were made of buffalo hide, bones, porcupine quills and eagle feathers, apparently the Aboriginals greatly revered eagles and used their feathers to give them strength and character. The headresses were magnificent.
After a happy hour in there, we set off for the Maclab Bistro, attached to the Banff Centre, with a fantastic view across the river with the mountains in the background. There were pretty hanging baskets and planters on the terrace outside, and fire pots, we could have sat out, but opted for a table by the window instead.
Rog had a swordfish and nicoise salad, and I had a quinoa and buckwheat salad with cranberries, apricots and walnuts with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing. I don’t often have a veggie main meal, but this was superb, and so fresh. Once more too stuffed for a pudding, we settled for coffee, photos of the view, and made our way back to the hotel. We stopped at a viewpoint, and scrambled rather dangerously down a rocky path, (Roger’s knee is definitely dodgy) trying to find out what we were supposed to be looking at, we assumed it was the castle like Banff Fairmont hotel, across the river. Only after taking several tree obscured photos, did we make our way breathlessly back to the car park and see a wooden set of steps leading up to the actual viewpoint!! Our children will sigh…..
Our Honda Elantra. No parking sensors, but Rog is coping very well!
We then went back to the hotel to look at options for the journey up the Icefields Parkway on Tuesday. Weather due to pick up tomorrow.
Monday 22nd June
Although our bedroom looks over the indoor pool, you can get a glimpse of outside through the pool roof lights, and we could see it was blue sky and sunny when we woke up. Breakfast slightly more restrained than yesterday, then off to get combined Explorer tickets for the Banff Gondola, the Minnewanka lake cruise, the Lake Louise chairlift and lunch, and the Icefields Glacier Adventure for tomorrow. We ride the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain, sharing our pod with a couple from Saskatchewan, and helped each other take photos on the way up.
Once at the top, we viewed the path to the weather observatory as impossible, it seened to high and far away, but taking it slowly, we managed to get there, taking masses of shots of the stunning mountain views on the way.
If you wonder why there are few photos of me, it is because I tend to write up the blog using the contents of my camera, whilst the ‘Lord and Regent of my Existence’ as my mother would say, (but I wouldn’t go that far!) prefers to spend his evenings doing other things, but I will try to get some of his photos in!
We spent some considerable time trying to photograph the ground squirrels, still the only wildlife we have seen, they were very fast moving, but by the time we reached to top observation deck, they were sitting up begging for food. We only found out hours later that there is a $3000 dollar fine for feeding them, obviously one lady was unaware of that, unable to resist offering them a bit of her lunch.
After lunch in the Summit Cafe we head down to retrieve our car.
A quick stop to give a bit of charge to the camera battery, and we set off for Minnewanka lake. Just out of Banff, we come across a collection of hastily abandoned vehicles by the side of the road. We first assume it must be an accident, and looked to discreetly drive past, but people are standing at the side of the road and pointing. I look harder, and unbelievably, there is a brown, brindled hump in the field, about 100 yards away – a bear! Although it was on the bucket list, I wasn’t very hopeful of seeing one in the wild, but this was incredible luck. I had read that Grizzly bears were the least likely to be seen, yet there was the unmistakable hump on its back.
We too abandoned the car at the side of the road and did our best to obtain pictures, so difficult to hold the camera still enough when using the full zoom. The bear seemed completely unbothered by it s audience, eating something in the long grass. Most of the time we were treated to a large rump, but s/he did turn round and list her/his head a couple of times.
Reluctantly tearing ourselves away, we set off for the Lake Minnewanka cruise. The guide is very helpful, telling us about the ‘Water of the Spirits, the meaning of Minnewanka, and describing the ecology and geography of the lake. Damming it has increased the size by 50% and flooding the initial tourist village that was built. The dam now forms part of Canada’s hydroelectric plants.
We had an attractive female captain, although we still didn’t purchase the expensive photo of us with her taken as we boarded! Our guide, Gavin, was giving us all sorts of information, but sadly the microphone didn’t really stretch the sound to the back of the boat where we were sitting.
The scenery again was beautiful, reminded us of Doubtful Sound in New Zealand. At the boat turn round point, we were shown an eagle’s next, the owner was out, but we were assured would soon be back. Gavin also talked about the ‘Mer-Monster’ that was supposed to live in the lake, and was ‘discovered’ and ‘caught’ by an opportunistic salesman, Norman Luxton, who had the creature made out of a monkey and a tuna fish, to increase the popularity of his boat trip tours or so the story goes. The so called monster can be seen in he Indian Trading Post shop, we just had to stop off there afterwards to check it out! Needless to say it now looks very dry and dusty and decrepit, not like the image in the photo. (our own shots had reflections from the glass case in the way). http://therealbanff.com/the-merman-legend-of-banff-alberta/
We then set off for the Nesters Food Market, to get cereal, orange juice and yoghurt for breakfast tomorrow, to save on the very generous but rather expensive hotel ones. That was fine, but obviously we would need a couple of spoons and bowls to eat with, and eventually had to give up on the bowls. If you want Davy Crockett hats, Indian Dream beadwork, mountain clothing or souvenirs, no problem, but it seems there are no disposable or cheap plastic bowls to be had, never mind, we can improvise with paper plates!
So that Rog could have a drink with the meal we decided to try out the hotel restaurant. It had the equivalent of a Harvester Salad Bar, which made a nice starter. We thought rib eye steak and chips would do nicely, however the waiter said we couldn’t have them rare as they had already been cooking for five or six hours, and had been cooked a bit too long! He assured us they would be almost rare, and we agreed to try!
The result was a steak that indeed looked rare, but had the texture of a beef casserole. Not a problem, happy to try, but it had been so heavily doused in pepper, and I think a bit of chili as well, that I couldn’t eat it. Rog ate his, but the obliging waiter seeing me struggle brought me pasta with tomato sauce instead!
Tonight we have to pack, off to Jasper tomorrow, via the beautiful Icefields Parkway road. One destination near over all ready, but really excited to have seen that bear!