Sunday, October 29, 2006

Road trip through the Rockies

Following our relaxing stay in Edmonton (post to come where I track down where I've saved those photos...)

Following the festivities in Edmonton, we rented a car (a "Malibu") and drove down the highway into Canada's beautiful Rocky Mountains. We had some stunning weather along the way, this is a truly beautiful part of the world.

Our first day consisted of the drive from Edmonton to Jasper. Along the way we visited the Maligne Canyon and did a lovely walk alongside the canyon.

View along the Maligne Canyon, Jasper National Park

We ended the day at the town of Jasper, a small mountain community, and had a bite to eat for dinner... I tried the Bison Burger. The next day was probably the most spectacular of our trip through the Rockies. We started up with a drive to Mt Edith Cavell, just outside Jasper where we did a walk with some great views of the not one, but three glaciers on the mountain. Firstly, the spectular hanging Angel Glacier, then the Cavell Glacier and the Ghost Glacier. We really enjoyed the walk, even getting up close to glacial pond and hunks of ice lying on the edge.

Left: The Angel Glacier, Right: the magnificent Athabasca Falls
After leaving Mt Edith Cavell, we following the Icefields Parkway further until we got to the Athabasca Falls. These are the most powerfull falls in this part of the Rockies, and in summer they were in full glory. On a fine day like we had, you will see rainbows because of the mist rising from them. A truly impressive sight!
Continuing down the Icefields Parkway, we headed through some spectacular mountain scenery until we got to the Columbia Icefield - glaciers everywhere you look. This is one of the largest accumulations of ice and snow south of the Artic Circle feeding a number of major glaciers, including the Athabasca and Dome, and also serves as a tricontinental divide - feeding the major river systems - the Athabasca (feeding into the Artic Ocean), Saskatchewan (feeding into Hudson Bay and the Atlantic Ocean) and Columbia (which feeds into the Pacific Ocean). While there, we took the 'Snocoach' onto the glacier surface where we had some brilliant views, up close of this magnificent place. We spent that night, after driving through some more breathtaking scenery along the Saskatchewan River Valley, by staying at Saskatchewan River Crossing.

Left: The AA Glacier, taken whilst standing on the Athabasca Glacier - arms of the Icefield
Right: The Snocoach which we took onto the Glacier.

The next day we travelled further south into the Banff National Park. Banff is probably a bit more touristy, and feels a little less remote than the Jasper National Park. This is where many of the big tourist sites are - Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake, and yet more mountains. The weather was not quite as nice this day, a little overcast, and I remember it as the day I first noticed how many mosquitos there were in the mountains...
Left: Peyto Lake, Right: Johnston Canyon

Peyto Lake is one of those spectacular sites on the way to Banff. The lake is an extraordinary colour blue and set in amongst the trees and mountains makes it one of the most beautiful lakes I've seen. Must be why the mozzies like it too - I felt like I was on the menu while I was up at the lookout. We also got to see some pretty alpine flowers on the way up. The rest of the day was spent at the other big lakes - first Lake Louise and then Moraine Lake, both of which were pretty outstanding despite the less than perfect weather you can see in the photos. I particularly liked Moraine lake, and the famous 'Ten dollar note view' which was printed on the old Canadian $10 notes. We rounded out the afternoon with a visit Johnston Canyon, another impressive canyon with water rushing through at magnificent speed. That night we stayed at Canmore, a little further on the Banff.

Left: Moraine Lake - the "Ten dollar note view", Right: The Three Sisters at Canmore

Canmore was a great place to stay, and we had a really comfortable room there, with great breakfasts!! Canmore is about 20mins from Banff, and outside the national park. Near Sydney in the Blue Mountains National Park, there is a formation called the Three Sisters. Canmore has it's own version which towers over the town, as you can see above. It was also in Canmore that we first got into the Canadian trend that is Tim Hortons - donuts and all kinds of goodies.

Breakfast at the Lady MacDonald Country Inn

The next day was July 1 - a good time to be in Canada, as it was Canada Day! One thing we found out about the Canadians - they are extremely patriotic people, to the extent that even all of the foreigners in Banff were getting into the spirit. I myself was sporting a couple of Canadian Flags. We spent the morning on the Banff Gondola, followed by a dip in the Banff Springs - one of the reasons this place became so famous in the first place! Unfortunately our budget didn't quite stretch to the Fairmont Banff Springs. The afternoon was spent wandering the shops on Main Street and watching the parade of marching bands, flag twirlers, baton twirlers, clowns and other exhibits, including a few dedicated to the upcoming Calgary Stampede. We rounded out the day with a visit to Lake Minnewanka, a large picturesque lake.

Left: Picturesque Lake Minnewanka, Right: Parading down Main Street, Banff on Canada Day

Canadian for the Day: Celebrating Canada Day in Banff
And so we came to the last day of our Rockies Road Trip... We left Canmore, and after a recommendation from our hosts, we visited the Bow Valley Provincial Park in Kananaskis County, enroute to Calgary. We both really enjoyed the park - lots of beautiful flowers, and some beautiful reflections of the foothills to the Rockies. While the livestock was pretty active (a few nice mozzie bites) we got some great photos, and then continued on to Calgary. We had some time to kill before our flight to Vancouver... and from reading the book "What's so funny about Alberta" we knew that there was a giant cowboy in the town of Airdrie, just north of Calgary... So when in the great west of North America... what better to do than pay homage to the Cowboy. After driving round in circles we finally found him... Hiding out in a car sales yard.

Left: View at Bow Valley Provincial Park, Right: the Giant Cowboy of Airdrie

Monday, October 02, 2006

Rendezvous with the Quebecois

Where else could you mix the class of French cuisine with Walmart. Yes, that's right, in Montreal!
Heading north from New York's La Guardia airport, I went to Montreal in the Canadian province of Quebec. Montreal was an interesting city - heading into town down the wide North American style streets, lined with Walmart, one of the biggest variety of fast food outlets (each with an acre of available parking spaces, you will end up in the centre of town, lined with delightfully coloured terraces, a magnificent cathedral, a couple of impressive bridges, and a truly UFO-like Olympic Tower from when the city hosted the Olympic Games in 1976.
The interior of the Notre Dame Basilica and the Canadian Flag flying
We spent a couple of days wandering around Montreal - shopping, eating, testing out my meagre knowledge of French. We did find, however, that the French spoken in, Quebec is somewhat different to that spoken in France itself. We also visited the Notre Dame Basilica, which is a must see for anyone visiting the city - it is built in the neogothic style, and the interior is quite unique, with the altar highlighted with the blue backlight. We finished the day sitting in the sun, in amongst the action near Place du Jacques Cartier.

The Molson Brewery, and the picturesque streets of the old town

The tower of the Olympic Stadium - Very 70's!