The Gift of Banff

Since Banff is only an hour and a half from Calgary we were able to enjoy almost two full days in this amazing place. It’s not nearly enough, of course, but we have worked very hard to make sure we have filled every moment with thrills, spills and … food.

We actually travelled via a place called Canmore which is perfectly lovely but a poor cousin to the main event when placed in context. By the time we reached Canmore the mountains were touching the sky, Canadian Pine trees were carpeting the lowers slopes and my belly was rumbling. The breakfast that morning was excellent but an hour and a half of driving had taken its toll on our sugar reserves and we needed at least a cup of tea and a cake.

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‘Yep – it’s time we had some cake in Canmore!’

The Good Earth Cafe in Canmore struggled with Black Tea and I had to settle for a coffee I didn’t really want – but the Cinammon Swirl was very tasty. My Canmore experience was marred by being caught ‘crossing the carriageway to park’ which it turns out is unlawful in Canada (it is only unlawful at night in the UK). The patrolman who stopped me gave me a right doing for it (I suppose I should be grateful he didn’t fine me) and my dignity was hurt badly. I got over it by decrying the efforts of the fine men and women of the Canadian police to my wife. She knew I’d made an arse of the parking but listened and agreed anyway.

We travelled on to Banff, checked into our hotel and headed straight out to pick up a free bus to the Banff Gondola on Sulphur Mountain. At $40 this is a pretty expensive way to climb a hill but I didn’t know you were allowed to take a tourist path up until we got on to it. My terror-stricken other half might even have preferred to walk too.

Anyway the view are breathtaking. The pictures don’t do it justice – you need every sense to really understand it.

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Perfectly relaxed in the Gondola.

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Banff from the Sulphur Mountain.

Despite the warnings about bears and the dangers of feeding wildlife, the things that creep amongst the Canadian forests made no appearances for our lens. We saw a couple of chipmunks chatting animatedly about the downturn  in tourists this year and the effect that was having on the economy, but aside from that there was nothing. It didn’t lessen our enjoyment of the visit, it was just sad that the bears and wolves out there didn’t get to feature in this blog.

Lunch at the Gondola was flipping awful. Not that it was their fault – I chose badly. Really badly.

I had a ‘kind-of-a-roll’ with ham and cheese on it, and grain mustard. It was too salty. In my naive attempt to embrace the local culture I decided to have a root beer with no concept of what it was. It’s popular here so what could possibly go wrong? Well if you have never had one of these I can only say you would be wise to keep it that way. I swallowed a mouthful and immediately wanted to throw up. Why? Well it’s probably because the last time I had this taste in my mouth I had accidentally licked my fingers after applying a liberal amount of Deep Heat to a muscle injury. Deep Heat! That’s for external use only!

The manufacturer of my bottle of ‘Essence of Deep Heat’ said it all.

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After the Gondola adventure we spent the rest of the day in Banff itself working out if any of the ‘local’ gifts are made anywhere else but in China. No is the answer.

You have to marvel at the business genius of the Chinese people. They work out what a tourist might be interested in for any given location (bears, elk etc.) and then manufacture cheap gifts for export to the main street traders (often Chinese coincidentally).  I am certain we will find this throughout our trip. All the holiday gifts I have obtained I could probably get on eBay from China sent directly to my door. In fact I could order all my gifts for each location I intend to visit for delivery home now and they will be there by the time I get back. No need to fill my suitcase and worry about the weight!

For dinner we ate pasta at The Old Spaghetti Factory which is very good value because the (reasonable) price of your main course includes garlic bread,  a starter (minestrone or salad), ice cream dessert and a cup of tea. It seems to be their selling point and it had me sold. Very tasty too and nice friendly staff.

A pretty dire breakfast this morning at the hotel (no waffle iron would you believe it?) but we ate enough to get going for a lake cruise on Lake Minnewanka (pronounced Minnewonka – for obvious reasons). Now I am not a sexist in any shape or form. I know very well that women can work mechanical objects just as good as men, probably better in many if not most cases. But when the female pilot of our vessel is introduced as Captain ‘Becca’, wears jeans, t-shirt and looks just a few days short of her fourteenth birthday I get a little twitchy. I’d be the same if a similarly aged boy called Captain ‘Bazza’ took the helm. I want the people responsible for carrying me and my spouse onto the ocean waves to be called Reginald or Montgomery or Hildegarde – and to have stripes on the sleeves of their perfectly pressed white suits.

As it turns out Captain Becca would handle the vessel perfectly well and we had a very nice (and safe) trip on the water.

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‘Please stop the Captain shouting ‘wheeee!’ whenever we turn!’

After out boat trip we decided to skip lunch and just have a small ice cream and some fruit before heading on our first serious mountain expedition. The ice cream at Cows is apparently famous throughout the world – and deservedly so. It is delicious. The flavours are bizarrely named but very descriptive. I had a mix of Cowconut Cream and Gooey Mooey flavours. A perfect combination.

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Followed by that nice apple to freshen the palate it was good fuel for our climb up Tunnel Mountain, so named because they decided NOT to build a tunnel under it (honestly). More stunning views at the top and the perfect way to build up an appetite for dinner.

We tried hard to find a decent place to have dinner but the prices in Banff for food are way too high. They are tourist prices and I don’t pay tourist prices.

So the only way for us to go was to find a non-tourist eatery. It was a little rough round the edges, off the grid and full of locals, but Bruno’s turned out to be cheap and highly effective. The ‘Tragically Hip’ Burger enjoyed by herself featured bacon and peanut butter! I had an elk burger with Swiss cheese. Elk cost a little more than beef and tasted a lot like – beef. In fact it tastes so much like beef if they had given me a beef burger and added the extra two dollars on I would have had no idea.

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After this last feast we walked to the Bow River Falls for a final amazing view before we set off tomorrow morning.

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It’s difficult to sum up Banff, it is truly a beautiful location and we were blessed with unseasonably good weather. We were told it is often overcast, cold and damp – so we feel very lucky to have caught it just right. The Autumn colours were amazing and the sights are breathtaking.

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Strange Tree! Where have I seen this before…..?

AHAA!

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