Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Unexpected Canada! July 14-July 24, 2017

Well, I have been back for over a month now and it took me a little while to rummage through my head and come up with a good idea for a blog post that would encompass our experience.  Every aspect of our trip was "not to be missed," so it was rather difficult to come up with a blog post full of must sees.
We began our trip in Calgary where we experienced "the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth," the Calgary Stampede.  My kids loved the rodeo, the chuckwagon races, and the completely over the top closing ceremony show and fireworks.  We experienced the expansive (and expensive) Midway, ate any kind of food imaginable (literally, there was deep fried EVERYTHING-coffee, lemonade, twinkies, cheesecake, oreos, and no we had none of it), and viewed shows from kitchen stadium to Bollywood!  Calgary is a beautiful clean city with wonderful people which really comes alive during Stampede week!  Free pancake breakfasts start in Olympic Plaza about 8am and the party continues down the Stephen Avenue walk until the wee hours of the morning!

Free pancake and bacon breakfast on Stephen Avenue

The colorful Midway at the Calgary Stampede

Just had to include this...these pristine bovine beauties
are vacuumed and blow dried before being judged!

The stirring and patriotic night show
O Canada!

After the Stampede ended we moved north into Banff National Park where we took in the majestic snow capped mountains of the Canadian Rockies.  Here we conquered amazing hikes including the Lake Agnes Trail from the base of  Lake Louise to the delightful Lake Agnes Teahouse, the highly recommended Bourgeau Lake Trail, and last but far from least the Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass Trail, which rises 3000 feet above the pristine and jewel-like Moraine Lake (my favorite!).  We canoed on Moraine Lake.  We took Gondola rides affording us expansive views of Lake Louise and of the Bow Valley.  We rode bicycles all the way from downtown Banff along the Banff Legacy Trail to Lake Minnewanka to Vermillion Lakes back through downtown to the Cave and Basin Historic Site.  We also ate at some great restaurants, relaxed in our hot tub overlooking Tunnel Mountain, and slept like babies.

On the Bourgeau Lake Trail

Atop the Banff Gondola..

Early morning canoeing on Moraine Lake

This is my favorite picture I took in Canada..
Iphone 6s...

So worth the top of Sentinel Pass

A few nights later it was off to Jasper National Park via the Icefield Parkway, which passes by some notable landmarks, including Peyto Lake, Tangle Falls, Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Falls, the Glacier Skywalk, and most notably the Columbia Icefields, where a behemoth of a vehicle, called an "Ice Explorer" takes you (and a million other people) right out onto the glacier.  The little town of Jasper itself has some great places to relax at the end of a long day on the road, including the Jasper Brewing Company and the Jasper Pizza Company, and an even better place to start your day, the Bear's Paw Bakery, where the line out the door starts at 6am!  Seeing the sights requires some driving in Jasper. Both the breathtaking Maligne Canyon and Maligne Lake are accessed by a lengthy trek down Maligne Lake Road.  After hiking Maligne Canyon in the opposite direction of those who get there on a tour bus, we trekked out to the lake and boarded the scenic Maligne Lake Cruise to charming Spirit Island.  Possibly most majestic in Jasper is the 3000 foot (okay 1000 meters!) ride up Mount Whistler on the Jasper Skytram.  The ride itself is challenging for claustrophobes and those afraid of heights, but the views at the top are unmatched.  If you are up for the challenge another 600 feet of elevation gain will take you to the true summit of the mountain, where you are literally enveloped in clouds.

The top of the Jasper Skytram surrounds you in clouds

Maligne Canyon

Maligne Lake

Maybe my favorite spot in Jasper..the Bear's Paw Bakery!

Okay, so why is your blogpost called "Unexpected Canada?"  Okay so let me share some things we did NOT expect in Canada!


Oh was it crowded!  Somehow everyone decided to go to Canada this year.  This year Canada celebrated it's 150th year of independence by making admission to all of its National Parks free.  This was a savings of about $160 dollars for us and quite possibly a lure for just about everyone else on the planet.  Tour buses and cars were everywhere.  The crowds made reservations for all activities absolutely imperative.  You also better get your butt moving and out the door early in the morning, or you can forget finding parking once you get there.  We reached Lake Louise after spending the early part of the morning at the Lake Louise Gondola at about 10:30 am, and on finding the parking lot full we were redirected to an overflow lot about 5 km down the Trans-Canada Highway!  There you waited in line for a school bus sized shuttle bus to take you back to Lake Louise.  Then when you were done, you waited again to catch the shuttle back!  A few days later, not wanting to repeat this experience, we arrived at the popular Moraine Lake at 830 after about 45 minutes of driving to find the parking lot full and a row of cars lining the road back a good distance.  Luckily, parking karma prevailed and just as we were being hailed on, someone's reverse lights alerted us to an opening spot. Phew!
Banff Avenue in the middle of the day was like Main Street USA, wall to wall with pedestrians.  One night at the grocery store every checkout line reached back to the butcher's counter in the back of the store!  Everywhere we went, we stood in line to use the public restroom, which was usually a portapotty.
Every stop along the Icefield Parkway was shared with a tour bus, or five.
Jasper was less crowded, but only slightly.  We still crammed the Jasper Skytram with 30 people to ride up at 440 pm and waited nearly 45 minutes in line up at the top to return to civilization.
This paints a more dismal picture than actually occured.  We were prepared with reservations and a plan of action of what we were going to do each day.  We rose early and planned to be out late. Because we always had a plan we didn't waste time deciding what to do only to be thwarted by a full parking lot or full tour times.
There is another fact for sure, the more physically active you are willing to be, the farther away from people you can get!


It's the middle of summer, right?  I read all the tour books and knew not to expect real high temperatures.  However, I ALSO was watching my weather app and approaching the date of travel it was looking like we could expect some above normal temperatures, like into the 90's in Calgary and 80's the rest of the week.
Hmm..well I'm not sure where it all went wrong, but we were NOT prepared for the weather that awaited us, which was far colder than expected.  Some days it may have reached 80, for like an HOUR, and it took until 5 pm!
It all seemed to go south on the last day of the Stampede.  We had been inside an exhibit hall for a while and when we came out it was raining, windy, and suddenly about 20 degrees cooler.  There I my shorts and sleeveless shirt at about 4pm..about as cold as I had ever been. There was no way we were going to survive so back we walked to the hotel.  We had nothing.  Nicholas and Ally each had one pair of jeans and each had one long sleeved shirt and one sweatshirt.  I had only Capri jeans and a jeans jacket, not even a sweatshirt or a long sleeved shirt.  Natalya didn't even have jeans, so she wore yoga pants the entire week.  Craig came with a sweater, a raincoat, a windbreaker, and a fleece jacket, so he doled out his clothes to the lot of us.  By the end of the night it was 53 degrees.
Craig saved us, or at least me.  Immediately after reaching Banff, I bought a long sleeved shirt as did Ally.  I wore that dang shirt everyday, but even so I was quite dependent on having the fleece handy.
The mornings were wicked cold, occasionally into the 30's!  Another punishment was anytime spent at the top of a mountain.  I had never hiked in a long sleeved shirt, but we did it in Canada.  At the top of Sentinel pass, after crossing two large patches of unmelted snow, it started to hail and I swear it was like 40 degrees, but there I didnt really care, cuz we were sweating like fiends.
On the last day, we drove back via the Icefields Parkway.  There was fresh snow on the mountain peaks and our car indicated a balmy 3 degrees Celsius.
I had a bunch of tank tops in my suitcase that were never worn...
I think we have a few pictures in short sleeves and shorts...but far more in Craig's loaner clothes.

We are wearing everything we own here on the
Columbia Icefield

Fresh snow!!  July 24th

I heard you double the centigrade and add 30, so that's....


1)  Canadians are very low key about alcohol and the drinking age.  The drinking age is 18 but it seems that if you are with your parents and order something, they really don't care.  My 17 year old ordered her first alcoholic beverage in Craft Beer Market in Calgary, some hard cider of some sort, and the server didn't blink an eyelash.

Cheers, Natalya!

2) It gets dark really late.  Though not quite, I could almost say we never saw a dark sky while we were there.  While at the Stampede in Calgary, we did stay until it was dark enough for fireworks.  In Disneyland, fireworks start at at 9:30.  In Calgary, the fireworks didn't start until 11:15!  The two hour night show can't even begin until about 930, cuz it's just not dark enough.
As we drove farther and farther north, the days became longer and longer.  In Banff, we drove to Lake Minnewanka at 10:30 because it was dusky and we thought we'd have a good chance at seeing some wildlife. Pretty much in Jasper , the only time we saw a dark sky is when we got up at 4 to make it back to the airport.

Banff Avenue at about 10:15 pm

Probably taken about 10:30pm or later

3)  The server never takes your credit card.  She brings a mobile charger to your table.  Your card is never out of your sight.  A nice security feature, I must say.

Regardless, of whatever we ran into, this was one of the best vacations I ever took.  Canada was fabulous.  I can't wait to go back and see it again!  Thanks for reading my post!
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