Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper

Well, here we are in beautiful Banff with its lovely memories of a family holiday here in January 1991 when the streets were covered in snow and the skiing had long long runs amongst the trees dripping with snow. It is summer here now so the landscape looks very different but still beautiful. The Main Street is a busy place and it has changed with new buildings and lots more accommodation. Just before dinner we are watching the Olympics on TV when suddenly the screen is filled with a warning and the voice is blaring to let everyone know of a tornado warning near Calgary and what to do if you are out walking, on the highway, on your bike, in your garden etc.  
After a lovely Japanese dinner we make our way back to our room BUT we get to the room we think is ours and it has a “Do not disturb” sign on the door which is puzzling. So we have a debate in the hallway – is it 238 or 239, or is it 228 or 229? We walk up and down the corridor and off to the sides in this rabbit warren and still can’t decide which is our room. There is only one thing to do and that is go down to Reception and get them to sort this out for us! Oh deary me – we are losing our marbles!!

Our choice of excursion this morning was rafting on the Bow River so off we set dressed up for all weathers. We get aboard the raft and off we go about 8 km down the river seeing elk and osprey and lovely scenery on the way with a Canadian guy rowing and entertaining us for the duration. After that a walk downtown to try and find the place we stayed in years ago – found it we are pretty sure so take the required photos and then lunch and a walk back to the beautiful Banff Springs Hotel (which is an iconic symbol of Banff) to rest up before our Hoe Down dinner with the group tonight.

Well, we did the Hoe Down dressed up with cowboy hats and entertained with great music, good food, lots of dancing and, who would have thought it, lessons in Line Dancing! Can you belieeeeeve it? Probably not.

This morning we departed lovely Banff after an 11 minute gondola ride to the top of the 7500 ft Sulphur Mountain. This mountain has lovely boardwalks and stairways at the top so you can walk around and up to look down on Banff and into the distance. Banff has a resident population of 10,000 but you can only purchase a house or condo there if you have a job in Banff. Otherwise – no! Four million visitors a year descend on this beautiful World Heritage town and most of them decided to come yesterday!
On to the picturesque Lake Louise with its Chateau Lake Louise looking directly out to the lake surrounded by mountains. A bit misty today and a few droplets of rain, little cooler but we don’t mind one bit. After the heat of the desert I can tell y’all that cooler temperatures are no problem at all. A visit to the gorgeous Emerald Lake (Lake Louise was once called Emerald Lake but was then renamed after one of Queen Victoria’s daughters) completed the day which was one of picture-postcard photos. By the way – I got a hug from a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman. Well, actually, that is a myth now because the RCMP’s stopped wearing their red coats, big hats, boots and jodhpurs some years ago and they only come out for ceremonial occasions now. The only time you will see the uniforms and horses now is when you see the Musical Ride Tour – a group of horses and RCMP’s performing beautifully to music and touring the world every three years.

Well, a little surprise was in store in the bathroom today – a heated toilet seat. Yep – really tickled my fancy!

We leave for Icefields Parkway in the Columbia Icefields today to visit the Athabasca Glacier. The highway is 250 km long and is considered the most scenic highway in the world. We pass almost 100 ice glaciers, glacial rivers, streams, lakes and more tall straight Christmas-tree forests on the journey all the while looking for these elusive black bears and hoping they are about to spring out from between the trees to nibble on berries. We are not actually sure why the bears would walk out of the forest at the side of the road to wave to us when they have a whole forest to hide in but we live in hope. We haven’t sighted any yet and we haven’t sighted Goldilocks either.

The first glacier comes into view and it is a “wow” moment. The grey and white ice looks like it is tumbling down the enormous rocky slope. Nature has provided the most stunning landscapes for us to admire as we drive along this highway. Avalanches have wiped out long wide lines of trees. We stop at Bow Summit at 7000 feet to see Peyto Lake, the bluest lake in the Rockies, and walk to the lookout. Stretched out in front of us is a vivid turquoise lake reflecting the mountain and the glacier off to the left. Wow!

On arrival at the Visitors’ Centre at the Athabasca Glacier we are ushered into one bus to take us onto a 4-minute journey to get onto another big snow coach to take us to the glacier. The young drivers are very entertaining – the first one reminds us to take everything off the bus and “if you by chance leave it behind you can log onto e-bay and see if you can find it” he announces. We climb onto the snow coach and off we go towards the glacier descending a 32% grade rocky incline on the way to get there. Thank goodness for the huge rubber tyres on this thing! We arrive to do our walk on the glacier and our Tour Director, Tara, is handing out little plastic shot glasses to us all and she produces a bottle of whisky and we all down a toast! Heaven forbid – here we are dressed up warm, standing on slushy ice and drinking whiskey before noon! Well, you have to partake don’t you! This glacier moves 1 cm every 90 minutes so we are back on that snow coach rather quickly so we don’t move with it.

Now talking of being dressed up warmly, our Tour Director told us about six times to dress warmly for the glacier. This was also written on our daily sheet. We are travelling with 36 other people so you get a mixture, of course, but one lady got on the coach this morning (remember it is “visit the glacier day’) and she has a t-shirt and jandals on. Can you belieeeeeve it? Yes – she did visit the glacier in the t-shirt and jandals! Another lady carries around a huge bag over her shoulder every day like a shopping bag and she struggles with this thing so much that her husband has taken to sitting in a separate seat. Well, the other day she produced a box of washing powder out of that bag! Heaven knows what else is in it. Another lady travels with a teddy bear sticking out the top of her backpack. The teddy is sometimes dressed in different clothes each day and the teddy is propped up on fences, rocks, tables etc to have his photo taken in all the scenic spots. It is all interesting to observe. They all probably think we are odd too!

This morning we set out for Maligne Lake to do a boat trip down to Spirit Island and we are still craning our necks to look for bears but it seems they are all having a sleepin. Darn it! We pass a long mountain range with sawtooth ridges and more Christmas-tree forests – I think they must cover all of western Canada. The scenery is still absolutely stunning everywhere you look. Maligne Lake is 22 km long and freezes over to a depth of 1 m in winter. The summer season is from around May/June until end of September. Average temperature of the lake is 4 degrees so no swimming done here during the summer. On our return we decide to go for a walk around the lake here at the beautiful Fairmont Jasper Lodge (which is a whole lot of log cabins set around the main building and beside the lake – beautiful). We are going on a bear hunt and those critters had better be out there because we are getting sore necks trying to look for them. Off we go – camera at the ready – along the track and off onto a side track and guess what we saw…………. bear footprints. Yep – that’s as close as we got so I took a photo! After walking approximately 10 km, according to the boss, we rest up to watch the Olympics and Yay – the Sevens are playing Fiji. But that was short-lived! Boo hoo – they are out of the Games.

Tomorrow we board the Rocky Mountaineer to travel to Kamloops and then on to Vancouver on Friday. Then we farewell this beautiful Canada and enter Alaskan waters on the cruise ship.

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