A trip to Banff National Park (the final day)

We knew we’d have to get up fairly early on Monday to make our flight home, so we decided to practice by setting an alarm clock for Sunday morning, too. It wasn’t too painful.

Since Yelpers had praised Melissa’s breakfast, we decided to go there — our timing was great (maybe the clock was a good idea after all), since we didn’t have to wait at all, but by the time we finished, there were at least a dozen people waiting for tables. The food was OK (next time, I go for the waffle with blueberries), and the coffee was very good.

On our way back to the hotel, it started to rain — just a couple of drops, but as soon as we got to our room, the skies opened up. So we packed and checked out, borrowing an umbrella from the hotel for the rest of our time in Banff (and it worked wonderfully — we didn’t see another raindrop when we were outside…of course, we spend most of the time inside). We wandered around and did some shopping (not much buying, though); then we had lunch at Evelyn’s Coffee Bar. I thought about having dessert there, but I’d had my eyes on Cows the entire time we’d been in Banff; they had reviews in their window calling them out as equal or even better than Bertillion in Paris, and I was ready to put them to the test. They didn’t come close to living up to the reviews, but the ice cream was perfectly acceptable; nonetheless, I’m going to go elsewhere next time I’m in Banff.

And with lunch and dessert finished, we decided it was time to hit the road. Our rental car, a Toyota Matrix, didn’t have a cargo cover, so I was reluctant to go anywhere busy, but we weren’t quite ready to go to the airport, either. We decided to drive the Minnewanka Loop, which turned out to be a nice way to cap off our visit. We drove to Lake Minnewanka. We didn’t have the time (or the cargo cover) for the lake cruise, but just walking around the section of the lake near the parking was very enjoyable and scenic.

When we left, we decided to finish the loop instead of driving right back to the highway; we didn’t get very far before running into a goatjam on the road, so we parked and took a few photos, too.

We made one more stop on the loop, near mountains whose name I don’t know.

And then it was time to return to civilization. Soon enough, we were back at Calgary Airport and ensconced in our room at the Delta Calgary Airport Hotel, which was pleasant enough, though the views left everything to be desired after three nights in Banff. We’d returned our car, so we were limited in our dining options; the airport didn’t entice, so we ate dinner at the Compass Restaurant in the hotel, which was somewhat overpriced and too noisy (thanks to the TV in the YYC Lounge, adjacent), but tasty enough.

And that was basically the end of the trip; Monday morning, we walked across the road to the terminal, checked in, cleared customs, and flew back to SFO, picked up our car, had lunch, and drove home. No excitement, no photos.

A trip to Banff National Park (day 3)

Saturday dawned early, I think; we didn’t.

We decided to try somewhere else for breakfast, and, based on the bartender’s suggestion on Thursday (and some Yelp and Frommer’s research), we settled on Coyote’s. The place was nearly full when we got there, but there were spaces at the counter, so we squeezed ourselves in and enjoyed a tasty meal. I had, and can recommend, the Smoked Salmon Scrambled Eggs; Diane went for the Vegetarian Frittata, and she seemed happy about her choice, too. By the time we left, there were a few people waiting to get in — go early (in our case, that meant 9am).

After Friday’s excursion, the last thing we wanted to do was take a long drive, so we chose a target closer to hand — Tunnel Mountain. We parked at the lower trailhead and climbed to the upper one; that was probably the steepest part of the climb (and the least attractive, too).

Once we’d gotten to the “real” trail, the views improved.

The single biggest human-created artifact that we could see was the Banff Springs Hotel.

But, of course, there were much larger and more majestic objects visible!

After a while, we climbed high enough that the trail took us to the back side of the mountain, and we could see the other half of the Bow Valley, including the Fairmont’s golf course, which looked awfully appealing (and I don’t golf)!

Eventually, we made it to the top of the mountain.

And, a bit later, and after more nice views of Mount Rundle

we eventually found ourselves back at our car, in search of lunch. We drove back to the hotel and walked into town, unsure of what we wanted, but hungry. We wound up at Balkan, drawn in by the lunch specials on the blackboards outside. The food was OK, but not outstanding — but the prices were very appealing!

We decided not to have dessert in town; instead, we walked to the Fairmont to look around, especially in the terrace garden

and enjoy afternoon tea, which more than made up for any calories or money we might have saved at lunch. It’s not something I’d want to do every day, but it was fun!

We’d picked up a Banff trail map while we were downtown, and decided that rather than walk back on streets, we’d explore the Bow Falls Trail. We walked down to Bow Falls

and then retraced our steps towards downtown.

We weren’t quite ready to go back to the hotel, and the map showed that if we followed the Bow Falls Trail through downtown, we could walk all the way to the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, which sounded interesting (our hotel had a pool modeled after the Cave and Basin).

But we didn’t get there. We had just left the Banff Recreation Grounds and turned onto the trail to the site when we encountered an elk.

We decided he had the right-of-way and headed back into town, and trekked back to our hotel…and then back into town again for dinner, along with thousands of other tourists. We looked at a few places, but the lines were long, and eventually settled for Tommy’s Neighbourhood Pub, immediately beneath Balkan. The food was simple (I had a buffaloburger; Diane had elk (I think she wanted revenge!)), the beer was decent, and the service reasonably quick. I’d go back.

One final trip back to the hotel, and we were ready to call it a night. The pedometer read over 34,000 steps for the day — that seemed like enough!

A trip to Banff National Park (day 2)

Friday, we enjoyed not setting an alarm clock, but still woke in plenty of time for the hotel’s continental breakfast, which was OK but no more. The weather looked promising, so we took off for a full day of exploring, with the Columbia Icefield as our goal.

We left Banff on the Trans-Canada Highway and made excellent time until we hit the construction zone — they are “twinning” the highway through the rest of Banff National Park, and there’s construction between Banff and Lake Louise. But it wasn’t too bad, and soon we were at the Parks Canada information station in Lake Louise. The view from the parking lot wasn’t too bad, either.

A few minutes later, we were on the way again, turning onto the Icefields Parkway, which would take us the rest of the way. Even though it was a two-lane road, it was easy driving (I’d hate to try it in a storm, though!), and the scenery was nothing short of spectacular.

Eventually, we pulled into the Icefields Center, our goal for the afternoon. The Athabasca Glacier was just across the road.

We had a quick, overpriced, mediocre lunch at the Icefields Cafeteria, then purchased our tickets for the tour to the glacier itself. After a brief bus ride, we boarded our Ice Explorer.

The warning sign on the vehicle reminded me of Star Tours, but this was not a simulation. And we did jounce a lot on our way to the glacier itself, where we disembarked and frolicked in the cold and rain for a few minutes.

As advertised, the glacier itself seemed blue at times, and there was some melting.

There was even more melting outside the graded area where we were let off, and some people drank the meltwater — I might have, but I didn’t feel like freezing my lips!

Outside the graded area, you could really see the contours left by weathering.

And you could also see the moraine left by the glacier.

But soon, we were back in the car and heading south. This time, we were in even less of a hurry, and so we made more stops to enjoy the scenery, including one at the “Weeping Wall”.

And another stop near Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, where we had a good view of Crowfoot Glacier.

If you search the web, you’ll find thousands of photos of Lake Louise. Here are four more.

From Lake Louise, we took the Bow Valley Parkway back to Banff. It, too, was beautiful, but we didn’t take any pictures (or stop, for that matter) — and the only wildlife we saw was a couple of birds.

After a brief stop at the hotel, we hoofed it to Melissa’s Missteak for dinner, which was definitely the best meal we’d had all day, though ordering dessert wasn’t the best choice we could have made. Finally, we walked back to the hotel (via downtown Banff), and called it a night.

A trip to Banff National Park (day 1)

About three years ago, I participated in a workshop at CSCW on “Revisiting Online Trust.” When the workshop ended, we left with plans to work on a special edition of a journal, but that didn’t happen. What did happen, though, was that I was thoroughly impressed with the venue, the Fairmont Banff Springs, and its setting, Banff, and thought it would be great to come back some day, with my family.

Time passed.

This year, we discovered that the IBM Silicon Valley Lab, where Diane works, would be closed for an extra day to do some major power work, so that she had a four-day weekend. And IBM Yorktown, where I get my VPN connection for the Mac, would also be closed for the long weekend, while they did major power work, too. We tossed around a few ideas, and eventually settled on a trip to Banff, which had the extra advantage of renewing our United miles for another 18 months.

We left on Thursday, arriving at SFO with plenty of time for a leisurely lunch and trip through the
Wright at Home: Modern Lifestyle Design” exhibit before boarding our Air Canada flight to Calgary. Calgary was suffering from very strong winds, but we had a pretty smooth flight — however, flights had stacked up and we had to wait about 45 minutes in the line at the Canada Border Services Agency. On the other hand, our luggage was waiting for us as soon as we’d been cleared, and Customs itself took the usual 12 seconds.

Hertz slowed us down again — the first car they gave us was almost too filthy to drive (those strong winds had brought a dust storm), and then it turned out that it had been smoked in, so I swapped it for a Toyota Matrix (nice car, but I wish Hertz had sprung for the cargo cover so we would have been able to stop without all of our stuff being exposed) and we set out for Banff.

Most of the Trans-Canada Highway in Alberta is a four-lane divided highway — except, of course, for the section in Calgary, which is a busy urban street with badly synchronized traffic lights (it reminded me of Stevens Creek Boulevard, in fact). But eventually, we left Calgary behind and headed to Banff at 110 km/h (or so).

We’d chosen The Fox Hotel & Suites based on reviews from Frommer’s and TripAdvisor; it was pricey (but everything in Banff is pricey), but very comfortable, especially after we moved to a room that didn’t face Banff Avenue. The hotel is about a 10-minute walk from the central business district; they offer complimentary bus passes, but we didn’t feel the need to take them up on that. The hotel’s restaurant was a Chili’s — we don’t eat there at home, and didn’t see any reason to do it in Banff, either, so we set forth for dinner, planning to go downtown. But we didn’t get there; instead, we stopped at The Meatball and had a pleasant dinner (and a very pleasant bottle of wine) — then we walked the rest of the way into town, looked around, and headed back to the hotel.