Canadian Adventure : Part 1 – Calgary and the Rockies

Sarah had arranged a surprise on arrival in Calgary, in the form of an official tourist welcome with white cowboy hats for both of us, a ceremony in the Arrivals hall to pledge allegiance to Calgary and a certificate to prove it. What a nice way to be introduced to “The West”…

Some Background to our latest Adventure

Gerda and I had been wanting to visit Canada for some years and, spurred on by family in Canada, we decided that 2014 would be the year we finally ticked this box – not least because my sister and brother-in-law had visited South Africa the previous year  from Canada and told us we “had to” come and visit them in Ontario at the earliest opportunity.

When nieces Sarah and Rachel, both of whom live in Calgary on the western side of Canada, heard about our trip, they made it clear that Calgary would “have to” (it’s a Denner thing) be part of our itinerary and Sarah in particular tempted us with her plans to show us the Canadian Rockies, all of which was an offer we definitely could not refuse.

Just to make such a long trip worthwhile, we decided to include an Alaskan cruise in the itinerary – something we had heard about from friends and which promised to make the trip really special.

And so our trip developed into four “stages” – week 1 in Calgary and the Rockies, week 2 on a cruise ship to Alaska, week 3 touring Nova Scotia and week 4 on the farm near Ottawa with Sheila (Sam as she is known) and John.

Getting there

The easy bit was purchasing the air tickets – the actual trip to Calgary was a series of ups and downs, literally and mentally.

To start with, we arrived at OR Tambo airport Johannesburg well before our flight to Heathrow on Thursday 7th August, which was scheduled for 8 pm, only to find it was delayed by 12 hours and would depart next morning at 8 am. SAA put us up at a nearby hotel and we duly caught the flight next morning. On the positive side, a daytime flight is a lot more bearable than an overnight flight as it is not essential to try to sleep. The result was we missed our connecting flight to Calgary and had to overnight at a hotel near Heathrow (also paid for by SAA) to catch the next day’s flight – such are the joys of modern-day travel.

After breakfast the next day (Saturday 9th) we returned to Heathrow for the 9 hour flight to Calgary, which departed from the brand new “Queen’s Terminal” which impressed with its modern architecture and spacious security area with state-of-the-art systems, largely automated to make the experience a tad more bearable.

The brand new Queen's Terminal at Heathrow
The brand new Queen’s Terminal at Heathrow
Queen's Terminal
Queen’s Terminal
Now that's a "draadkar"! (just a giant version of the cars made from wire that African kids love to push around the village)
Now that’s a “draadkar”! (a giant version of the cars made from wire that African kids love to push around their villages)

Welcome to Calgary!

Despite arriving 1 day later than planned, and unbeknown to us, niece Sarah had arranged a surprise on arrival in Calgary, in the form of an official tourist welcome with white cowboy hats for both of us, a ceremony in the Arrivals hall to pledge allegiance to Calgary and a certificate to prove it. What a nice way to be introduced to “The West” and a lovely group of volunteer ladies who arrange it all.

The White Hat ceremony at Calgary airport - what a nice welcome!
The White Hat ceremony at Calgary airport – what a nice welcome!

Scan_20141010 Scan_20141010 (2)

We immediately felt at home when we got to Alex and Sarah’s house in Dalhousie, where we met their offspring Cassie and Rio. They were in the final throes of preparing for their big “pig roast” which they have hosted for the past 5 years. By this time we were quite tired after a long day which was extended by some 8 hours of time difference, but after a nap we regained some energy and joined the party, which by now was gathering momentum, meeting lots of interesting and friendly Canadians from the neighbourhood and further afield.

The "Pig Roast" in full swing
The “Pig Roast” in full swing

IMG_1352 IMG_1353

By 10 pm (6am the next morning for us) we called it a day and collapsed into bed while the party continued well into the early hours – even the fire brigade turned up, responding to a call about a fire in the yard!

The Morning After….

Next morning (Sunday) was a quiet one – amazingly everything was cleared up by the time we surfaced – Alex and Sarah were up till 4am clearing most of it and finished the rest in the morning. We took it nice and easy on the outside deck with coffee, more coffee and leftover dessert cake and were joined by Derek and Karen from next door – seems they have a very friendly neighbourhood going here.

Lunch was cheeseburger and fries from a fast food place that had queues of people waiting outside 2 windows to be served – good filling food and we tried the poutine, which is a Canadian dish that we came across a few times, comprising fries, a gravy-like sauce and topped with cheese curds.

Feeling a little bloated after this healthy lunch, I took a walk through the neighbourhood to a nearby park – birds were not plentiful but I did spot a Swainson’s Hawk cruising the skies, other than that it was Magpies, Crows and House Sparrows.

Back at the house it was more chilling followed by a walk to the local shopping centre where we had a look at the local retail offerings and had a cappuccino at the Starbucks located inside Chapters bookstore. The perfect weather was holding, so we sat outside and chatted until late evening, mostly about what we could expect to see over the next 3 days touring the Rockies.

Sarah and Gerda chilling on the deck
Sarah and Gerda chilling on the deck
Moon over Calgary
Moon over Calgary
Cars for rental on the street - pay via phone, get a code to activate the car and drive off!
Cars for rental on the street – pay via phone, get a code to activate the car and drive off!

Monday 11 August – off to Banff

We awoke to warmer weather and a busy day of travel ahead, but initially the day was quite relaxed, plenty of time to pack our bags for 3 days on the road and enjoy “Lebanese eggs” for breakfast, courtesy of Alex – a tasty dish of fried eggs and yoghurt eaten out on the deck.

There was even time to check out the local bird life along the back paths and I was pleased to find Chickadees and Thrushes – but more about the birding in a future post.

Rachel, my other Canadian niece who we last saw in SA back in 2000, joined us for the first part of the trip, which we did in her car so it was an ideal opportunity to catch up on the intervening years.

We left around midday and headed west to Banff with one stop at Canmore to say hi to Rachel’s sister-in-law Kirsty, who has a charming house right on the Bow river

IMG_1377

The famous Canadian Pacific trains pass through Canmore
The famous Canadian Pacific trains pass through Canmore
Canmore street (being redone)
Canmore street (being redone)

We spent some time admiring the view of the Bow River from the house

Bow River
Bow River at Canmore – how’s this for a view from the front garden

IMG_1367 IMG_1365

We followed this with a pop-in to the local knitting store (for Gerda’s benefit)  and an iced coffee at the local coffee shop. Canmore has a nice small town feel to it.

Canmore
Canmore
Canmore
Canmore
Coffee shop in Canmore
Coffee shop in Canmore

From there it was a short drive to Banff through increasingly scenic countryside with beautiful mountain backdrops as we approached the Rockies.

Banff National Park
Banff National Park

 

Before entering Banff, Rachel took a short detour to show us Lake Minnewanka, the largest lake in the Rockies, probably because it is also a dam which was constructed back in 1941. This was the first of the large lakes we were to see, which did not have the turquoise colour of the glacier-fed lakes that we came across later in the trip – nevertheless an impressive sight.

Lake Minnewanka near Banff
Lake Minnewanka near Banff

Next a visit to Banff Springs Park where we took a short walk along the pathways and board walks with views of lakes and wetlands, bordered by pine forests

Banff Springs Park
Banff Springs Park
Banff Springs Park
Banff Springs Park

Our Best Western hotel was easy to find on the main street and we checked in, then headed straight to the Bison restaurant for an excellent meal.

Cassie kept busy at the restaurant
Cassie kept busy at the restaurant

Summer evenings are long and light until late in this part of the world, so we decided to squeeze in a visit to the Banff Gondola (no it’s not a boat – that’s what they call a cable car in these parts).

Scan_20141010 (4)

Banff Gondola
Banff Gondola – going up Sulphur Mountain
Enjoying the gondola ride
Enjoying the gondola ride
Rachel with Rio and Cassie in the gondola
Rachel with Rio and Cassie in the gondola

We were just in time to catch the last gondolas going up for the day and had to rush a bit when we got to the upper station, as the last one was due to depart for the lower station in about half an hour. Nevertheless this gave us enough time to get to the watch tower at the pinnacle and enjoy the spectacular, albeit hazy, views before heading back down.

Gerda at the upper station
Gerda at the upper station elevation 2,281 metres – the plaque says “Pretoria 15,844 kms”

101_8815

The last climb to the pinnacle
The last climb to the pinnacle
Sulphur Mountain
Sulphur Mountain
Banff far below
Banff far below
From the pinnacle
From the pinnacle

Scan_20141010 (3)

Alex and Sarah had decided the day was not done yet, so off we went to the Bow Falls for a view at the spot where the Bow River tumbles  over a 9m drop, which we managed just in time as dusk was well advanced. From there it was a short drive to the famous Banff Springs hotel for late night coffee and a look at this impressive hotel, before returning to our more ordinary, but very pleasant, hotel in town for a good night’s rest.

Bow Falls at dusk
Bow Falls at dusk
Banff Springs hotel
Banff Springs hotel
Coffe on the patio
Coffee on the patio

Tuesday 12 August

By now we were getting into the swing of things and the fact that non-stop action was the order of the day, but Alex and Sarah and the kids were looking after us so well that it was non-stop pleasure as well!

Breakfast was at Melissa’s Restaurant which, according to Alex and Sarah, served the best breakfast in town – hard for us to judge, but we could vouch for the Eggs Benedict being the best we’ve had and to go with it there was a great atmosphere plus friendly service, so we would have to agree.

Melissa's Restaurant
Melissa’s Restaurant

Well satisfied, we strolled back along the main street to our hotel and could see that Banff is very much a tourist-driven town, but none the worse for it, with neat architecture that has a real Swiss feel to it, especially with the mountain peaks always visible in the background.

IMG_1388

Banff street scene
Banff street scene
Even the sidewalk is attractive
Even the sidewalks are special in Banff
Love those big trucks - this one has "doolies" (double rear wheels)
Love the big trucks that are so common in Canada – this one has “doolies” (double rear wheels)

Once checked out we said goodbye for the time being to Rachel, who had to return to work, and headed along the road to Jasper for our next planned stop at the Icefields.

Part of the way there we stopped at Bow Lake to admire the scenery – and what scenery it was! This lake is fed by glaciers which are visible high up the mountain in the background, imparting the special colour to the water and the lake in turn feeds the Bow River which we had seen at a few places en route and which, according to Alex, runs all the way across Canada to the eastern side and eventually into the Hudson Bay.

Bow Lake
Bow Lake
Bow Lake
Bow Lake
Cassie and Rio at Bow Lake
Cassie and Rio at Bow Lake
Bow Lake
Bow Lake

This was a good spot for the kids to expend some energy and for us to stretch our legs and just enjoy the setting – my usual quest for birds turned up a White-crowned Sparrow and Alex found a pair of nesting Barn Swallows under the eaves of the small shop, which was interesting as we only ever see them as non-breeding visitors from the Northern Hemisphere.

This is where I am going to cut off this post and continue the story in the next post, which will cover the rest of our Rockies trip, crammed full of great experiences as it was, and the last day or so in Calgary. The highlight of the trip was still to come when we had a spectacular and unique trip up onto the Athabasca Glacier….

One thought on “Canadian Adventure : Part 1 – Calgary and the Rockies”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s