Holiday of a Lifetime - Across the Canadian Rockies - Part 3
Jasper and Banff to the Rocky MountaineerAfter 3 days on The Canadian sleeper train, we were met by our coach driver who would take us around Jasper and the National Park for the next couple of days. As we found with all our coach drivers, he was funny and very knowledgeable about the region.
This is a fabulous area, rich with lakes and waterfalls and smooth hollowed-out rock formations worn down for thousands of years. There are lots of viewing points so that you can get the best shots but obviously very busy with other tour groups.
We stopped at several places along Maligne Canyon, fascinating views of eerily pale- turquoise lakes and rivers coloured by minerals seeping from the hills. Apparently, Kodak sent people to this area to see if the colour was real as they couldn’t believe it when they developed someone’s film.
Maligne Lake is a great place to stop, hire a canoe or kayak or just enjoy the backdrop of snow-topped mountains as you walk the edge of the lake. There is a big gift shop, of course, and a very good value Chilli Bar where you fill up a tub with tasty hot chilli. It was a bit grey and drizzly this day, with a touch of snow in the rain, but we loved the umbrella held bravely aloft in a canoe!
Jasper is an interesting town to explore, lots of tourists and quirky shops. We saw a family of elk just grazing by the roadside – photo opportunity! I kept the photo of the husband leaning on crouched wife as he tries to get a shot from the coach window – sums up most of our sightings and photographs on the trip. The Lobstick Lodge hotel was friendly, comfortable and a perfect base to explore from in the evening.
Next stop was drive along the Icefield Parkway, between Jasper National Park and Banff National Park, with stunning scenery and an excellent commentary from our driver. Halfway along is the Columbia Icefield and our included excursion onto the Athabasca Glacier, definitely a spectacle not to be missed.
We boarded the big Ice Explorer truck which trundled slowly onto the glacier, dipping down a scary incline into a trough of water and ice crystals ( to wash the massive tyres of any impurities before going onto the ice) and on to the designated area kept clear for visitors to walk on. Do not stray outside this area! Wrap up warm, of course, although the air was not as cold as we expected, and just enjoy the spectacle of this ancient glacier which is shrinking by the day. Though not necessary, I did wear my waterproof trousers too to avoid a “soggy bottom” if I slipped! If you look closely at the edges, there are new ice crystals forming on top of seeping, trickling water – a photographer or artist’s dream.
Two nights in Banff now at the Fox Hotel and Suites – one of the best ones we have stayed at. Even their information guide in the room made you feel welcome. Their phone rates really were reasonable – just dial 4 to hear an elk bugle of course – and all rooms had free WiFi “it’s all free – just don’t check your work email while on vacation!”. They point out that smoking will kill you so they are pleased to provide a smoke-free environment (the whole town of Banff is smoke free) and their Quiet Time is 11pm-8am, but they remind you “this is not an invitation to behave like a frat boy during the rest of the time”. I loved their note that you have a complimentary free public transport pass which is “not really free, we just paid for you”.
It was a great hotel, rooms around a central courtyard where you can look down on their hot pool. The restaurant and bar were excellent, as always just check prices before you order. Banff is a well-maintained town with a wide variety of shops and restaurants, and we always felt safe walking around in the towns we visited. Several members of the group saw a moose, a bear very early in the morning, and other wild animals scurrying around at dawn or dusk.
The next day includes an excursion to Lake Louise and optional Gondola (cable car) ride plus lunch which you book in advance through the tour operator. Unfortunately, we had to miss this day, enjoying the optional day at the local hospital instead for MRI scan, lumbar puncture and massive doses of painkillers (they were worried I was having a stroke) but I can confirm that the Canadian health service is exceptional, though expensive! The rest of the group did enjoy the lake and the gondola ride.
A very early start next morning for the exciting trip we had all been looking forward to – joining the Rocky Mountaineer for two days. There was time for a quick coffee and cereals at the hotel, but this was completely unnecessary as a delicious breakfast was waiting for us aboard the train. In fact, we were constantly being fed or provided with drinks all day starting with “the bar is now open ladies and gentlemen” at 9.30am!
We had the luxury of enjoying the Gold Leaf service, comfortable roomy seats allocated on the top deck of the sightseeing carriage, the dome, and two sittings for meals in the restaurant downstairs. Standard Silver Leaf service was also in comfortable, allocated seating areas with meals served at your table and plenty of viewing opportunities. Whichever one you choose, there is a great atmosphere amongst guests (not only our tour group on board of course) and superb service from staff.
This is a family-run company that has customer service down to a fine art. You are met regally at the door, welcomed by your carriage staff who look after you throughout the trip. There are two sittings for breakfast and lunch, half the group each time so the next day you swap for the other sitting. While waiting for breakfast as second sitting, you are served with delicious freshly-baked scones and jam (THEN breakfast) and wine, cheese and crackers while waiting for lunch. Sean and Sarah served hot towels as the clue for food time as well as bringing any drinks you wanted to order direct to your seat. If only you could travel the whole way across Canada in such style!