Our winter drive to Banff, about 126 km west of Calgary and 58 km from Lake Louise, is past intimidating Rocky mountains flaunting their pristine white coyness in new snow-capes. The prominent peaks, Mount Rundle, Norquay, The Three Sisters, are giveaways that we are approaching Banff, a quintessential mountain town nestled within Banff National Park, Alberta.
I had visited Banff in the summer of 2014, a bustling colourful timber town with rustic architecture merging with the surrounding rugged wilderness of the Rockies. In January 2016, my first winter trip, Banff appeared still in slumber, a lazy bear waiting to be nudged into action. Later, flipping through tourist brochures I came across a line up of winter activities from wine festivals, music and craft fairs with local flavour and winter sports run-ups in Banff and environs. Maybe, the deserted look was due to lunch time or resting time with few braving the cold outdoors: stragglers carrying their winter sports gear, construction workers, tourists and people like us enjoying a snow stroll on the Banff Avenue or the main road, clicking pictures of the giant Snowman and desperate to leave sitzmarks on the pavement snow.
Banff, discovered in the 1880s and named Banff by the President of Canadian Pacific Railway for his birthplace in Scotland, was a railway outpost and since then has careened down the majestic slopes to metamorphose into a tourist haven with chalet styled luxury hotels developed by the Canadian Pacific Railways and residential and commercial premises borrowing from the picturesque landscape.
Snug in winter-wear we ambled down Banff Avenue or main street, shuffling in gift shops and chalet-like malls and before the sales person, in one of the stores, could ask for the fifth time ‘Need help’ purchased Ice wine tea gift packs for friends.
Further down the Avenue, preparations were in full swing for a street party complete with ice sculptures including an ice bar, music, d.js and dancing away the winter blues
From street walking we moved into the cozy comfort of the majestic Fairmont Banff Springs, a luxurious ‘castle’ complete with gothic ceilings and glowing candelabra, a take off on Scottish/British royal living with more than 700 rooms, dozen eateries, lounges, popular spa, tennis courts and golf course. The ‘Springs’, as it is referred to by the guests and staff, was a gift of Canadian Pacific Railways and has played host to stars and royalty from Marilyn Monroe to King Edward VIII (who later abdicated the throne) and present elite, stars, politicians and sportspersons. Walking inside one does feel like ‘royalty’ and we plan to come again.
The majestic buildings merge with the color palette of the surrounding mountains and we watch, from one of the hotel terraces, the setting sun take a ski run down the snowy vista of Bow Valley.
A refreshing tea break in the Rundle lounge of the hotel and we bid adieu to Banff
Sitting in snow-bound Calgary I dream of the picturesque, aromatic lavender pathways of Okanagan Lavender Farm near Kelowna. This is probably what the glossy brochures mean when they tell you to visit and breathe in the rejuvenating lavender freshness to suffice for the winter months.
We had stopped for a few hours at the farm, it is on the tourist map, lured by the color purple and sweeping view of lavender flowers against the backdrop of the cerulean Okanagan Lake, apple and peach orchards and pumpkin farms.
Our timing was slightly mis-cued, as the best time to visit the farm is in July when lavender is in full bloom. August/ September is the harvesting and distillation period when flowers are hand-striped for lavender flavored products. Our visit was in August 2015 but something is better than nothing and enjoyed a stroll on the gravel pathways, admiring the herb gardens and the view stretching towards Okanagan Lake. There is a guided tour, we could not take it due shortage of time, but taking the tour is worth the effort if one wants to know the history, cultivation and by-products of lavender.
The stroll ended on the patio of the Lavender café, serves sumptuous fresh-baked snacks and lavender flavored drinks, and in the boutique overflowing with aromatic Lavender fragrances and herb products, oils, teas, scrubs, soaps, etc. Could not resist purchasing luxurious Lavender bath oil and a jar of Lavender jelly.
The farm is well thought of family business as along with natural beauty and shopping there are hobby and interactive classes, organized social gatherings, a cafeteria and family fun opportunities.
“The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals”. Melody Beattie
Bidding adieu to 2015 at Olympic Plaza in downtown Calgary. Happy new beginnings to all my blogger friends.
A quintessential urban open place crowded in by Victorian buildings and present glass facade constructions, the Plaza served as venue for medal ceremonies for the 1988 Winter Olympics. Concerts and festivals liven it up during summer months and in winters it morphs into a skating rink.
2015: We alighted in frosty, flaky Calgary in mid-November to experience Christmas cheer against a backdrop of white fluffy snow. But, then how do you spend your time? For locals the first snowfall gets them scampering for their skis, sledges and winter goodies.
I listen to my son’s friends weave weekend plans around feather-lite powdery snow, the thrill of careening down a slope and consoled with ‘age is no barrier, you too can try it out aunty’. Is it a smirk or genuine concern because as residents of a ‘hot’ country, we (my husband and me), are aliens to snowy cosplay of poles, brain buckets (helmets), bunny slopes, chocolate chips not as in cookies but rocks peeking out of snow and other related ski terms. Alberta has its share of some of Canada’s awesome ski runs starting with in-house Canada Olympic Park, site of 1988 Winter Olympic and now a practice run for beginners and professional,;the Iconic, legendary and breathtaking Lake Louise ski slopes; the unassuming Nakiska, 45 minutes from town; Banff and Jasper National Parks; Mount Norquay to list a few ski runs.
So, when our Indian friends point out that Calgary is not a sleepy, sprawling, mid-western town I agree. But what they fail to realize that for us it is the weather and not willpower that is the restraining reason. We have to work out the logistics of daily commute as even a short walk in sleet and slush can numb your senses. Secondly coming from warm country investing in high duty winter-wear is nudging the budget a bit. The answer to last statement is ‘if you choose to come in winter then you pay for it.’
I get the hint and brace myself for resourceful activities or simply follow ‘In Rome do as the Romans do”. There are attempts at stepping out of the house, to practice my penguin-waddle and generally get the better of weather.
My list of 2015 winter activities:
1. Heritage Park, the family fun place for shopping and celebrations, buggy and train rides and viewing vintage cars at Gasoline Alley. If a history buff, like me, then the largest living history museum in Alberta, is the place to spend time in. The Heritage Park Historical Village started in 1964 and since then has become popular tourist destination.
2. Canada Olympic Park on the city outskirts is a legacy venue of the 1988 Winter Olympics. The park is home to North America’s fastest ‘zipline’ where riders reach 140km/h after launching from the ski-jump. No harm in going for a look around.
3. Walk the Malls especially on days when the temperature dips to minus 31. There is choice, depending on area where staying, from themed CrossIron Mills, Chinook Plaza, South Center Mall and others to spend entire afternoons and evenings walking along the length and breadth of inner space flanked by brand outlets and showrooms, restaurants, pubs, coffee slots and children’s play stations.
4. The Trendy Strip or the stretched 17th Avenue between 2nd and 14th streets SW is a lively retail and entertainment strip close to Downtown and Stampede Park. The snow can be a spoil sport but there are kinky diversions, from personalized boutiques to cuisine options, to camouflage wintry blues.
An interesting option winter option is the +15 Core walk, an overhead 16 km, climate controlled pedestrian walking experience and reminding me of the underground Downtown pedestrian PATH in Toronto. I prefer the Calgary Core as you can watch the street scenes down below and at same time revel in crowd-jostle, the tantalizing aromas of fresh coffee, food court offerings mingling with book stores, salons, boutiques etc. One can start from TD Square and follow the meandering passages cozying to snazzy shops, offices, boutiques and the cool, calculated refreshing Devonian Gardens, an indoor sprawling tropical greenery on top floor (above 2 Street SW and 3 Street SW). After a break continue towards Holt Renfrew upscale store. The Garden has recently re-opened, after renovation, and I hope to visit it soon.
From here step down, ground floor, to Stephen Avenue the pedestrian mall/ walk in center of Downtown. Past and present comes alive with cafes, street musicians and vendors, cultural shows against the backdrop of restored buildings flaunting architectural styles of the 1800s to 1930s. The Avenue was declared the National Historical District in 2002. Calgary is referred to as ‘The Sandstone City‘ because of the sandstone buildings replacing majority wooden buildings after the devastating fire of 1886. The Old City Hall, east end of Stephen Avenue Walk, is Calgary’s showcase building. The upscale Teatro restaurant, on 200-8 Avenue, is housed in the former Dominion Bank building that was an example of Beaux Arts classicism. The Avenue walk can be divided and sub –divided into segments to appreciate and savor the settings. One can break the classicism monotony by loosing oneself in the nerdmania of INDIGO on 7th Avenue or the innaneness of Winners or Dollarama stores.
Still in Downtown take the elevator for a bird-eye view of Calgary from the 191-meter Calgary Tower. We were unlucky as it turned out to be a cloudy day. The booking for the revolving restaurant, Sky 360 was already done, this includes the glass-floor walk for a peek down at city streets. The hazy view was compensated by the 60-minute movement (dinner time revolve) for an all round vista view of the city.
6. Another must visit is the Glenbow Museum (9 Ave SE) one of Canada’s largest museums. The museum houses collection of Eric Lafferty Harvie whose life changed after oil was discovered on his land. My life would change too if oil was found on my land.
7. FORT CALGARY wasconstructed by North West Mounted Police at confluence of Bow and Elbow Rivers in 1875. It comes across as a mansion, unlike the forts of India, but still interesting to see the reconstructed barracks and life of the people involved in setting up a new city. Close by is Calgary Zoo and during Christmas popular for Winter Lights.
8. The frozen Bow and Elbow River walks are fascinating. Start from Eau Claire and cross ‘Jaipur bridge’ for a stroll along the Prince’s Island Park, stopping at River Cafe for refreshing coffee and sandwiches, and continue towards the vermillion Caterpillar or Peace Bridge, west of Princes Island Park. This is a pedestrian only bridge ‘to nowhere’ connecting southern Bow River pathway and Downtown with northern Bow River pathway.
9. Out of town places on my list are Drumheller located along Red Deer River (Southern Alberta). It is a children’s and adults fantasy world with an interesting collection of Dinosaur fossils from the Alberta badlands housed in Royal Tyrell Museum.
An all time favorite drive, summer or winter, is to Banff and surrounding areas such as Bow Valley Parkway, Moraine Lake valley, Lake Louise and its Ice Sculpture festival held in January, the Jasper National Park and its environs for snow adventure, the Columbia Icefields thoughwinter time restrictions are there. On return stop at Canmore, a quaint villagy town, an hours drive from Calgary, nestled in heart of Rocky Mountains along Bow River. The aerial Glacier Skywalk, anobservation platform 918 feet over spectacular glacier-formed valleys and rushing waterfalls on route to Columbia Icefields is closed for winter months.
10. Another to-do-thing on my activity list is to watch a hockey game at Saddledome, with its unique ‘saddle’ flowing concave roof. Another may-be is dog sledding and snow shoeing or simply walking in the snow. The easy walks are Heart Creek, a flat easy hike just 45 minutes from Calgary, the Bow Valley Provincial Park, Nose Hill and other Calgary parks.
Winter is the time for Christmas and New Year celebrations, time for lights, fireworks and festivals. The places to visit are East Village, Islington, the Calgary Winter festival in Downtown and Winterfest Carnival at Fort Calgary.
Snow is also about snowmen and snow fights and Calgary has snow in abundance to give shape to your creativity.
On blustery winter nights, the best antidote is to curl up in front of TV, watch movies, game shows or anything else plateful of hot crispy snacks in front of you. Or perch on the windowsill to enjoy the dancing flakes from within a heated room and promptly dispatch Whatsapp photos to friends back home.
Check avenuecalgary.com for weekly listing of activities in town.
Happy Holidays. Will post pictures of tasks accomplished.