A Travellerspoint blog

Day 23

Banff to Vancouver

sunny -14 °C

Damn I don't want to leave. This hotel and this little town are truly magical. We have enjoyed the wonderful service and friendliness of the staff of the Fairmont. The festive decoration of the hotel has to be seen to be believed. There must be hundreds of Christmas Trees. It is truly beautiful.





Followers of this blog will be aware of the turmoils we have experienced when traveling between cities. Today we caught a coach for the 90 minute drive to Calgary. We left Banff at 10am and our flight for Vancouver is scheduled to depart at 2.30pm. Brewster is the coach line we used to travel to Banff also. They have modern coaches, that are heated and the drivers are very helpful. Today our driver John was amazing in the circumstances that unfolded.


Halfway into our journey we where confronted by a roadblock by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Both lanes (westbound and eastbound) of the Trans Canada/Highway 1 were closed and traffic banked up for kilometres. We were only a few minutes behind the traffic that was involved in the accident. Here we were right amongst it, in a coach that was unable to cross the steep snowy median to turn around to a detour. As fate would have it, John was on the ball. He collected all our names and flight details and emailed them to their Calgary Airport Office. The Mounties cleared one lane on our side to allow the coaches to turn around and drive on the wrong side back to a detour on the old highway.




The clock ticked by and a crowded old Highway 1 which was only two lanes seemed to go on forever. We drove through the rural grazing countryside of Alberta and the first nation lands. This detour allowed us to see frozen lakes and people fishing on them. Native communities and lots of cattle. Calgary is the home of that famous rodeo or stampede as they call it here, so the cattle was a given.








Our driver John did a fine job, and we finally arrived at the Calgary airport at 1.40pm. Due the rush, we didn't get to say thank you, but I will send John and his employers a letter of thanks when I get home. Thanks John!

We checked-in with Air Canada to find out that our flight was delayed. And so, twenty minutes later than scheduled, we departed for Vancouver in British Columbia.



Once again, the anxiousness of our travel plans made for busy day. For hours we have thought about the accident, especially since we were told that one person lost their life.

We arrived to rainy Vancouver. Tac and his limo dropped us to our hotel and home for the next week. While we will miss the snow and the mountains of Banff, we are very much looking forward to exploring this new city. Hello Vancouver!

Posted by petty1912 18:56 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Day 22

Boxing Day in Banff

sunny -23 °C
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This being half a world away from home kicked in today. I am 18 hours behind time wise from my home town. Boxing Day is a big deal with our little family. Since we became parents we have had our own lunchtime celebration called "The Boxing Day Bash". The bash consists of me baking a leg of ham, roasting some vegetables and making a couple of salads. We then sit down to eat and watch the start of the iconic Sydney to Hobart yacht race.



It's an institution that we have created for ourselves and we enjoy very much. Well not this year. No yacht race to watch (except for on the internet) and I have no kitchen to cook in. In other words I have a free day to do as I choose. So what do you do when it is cold and snowing outside? Go on a sleigh ride that's what!

The sky was blue and clear and it was mid morning when booked the ride for. We have found that most people don't like to head out until lunch time or after when it has "warmed up". Truth is it never warms up. The sun will shine on you, but you won't feel any heat at all. It is only when your in the shade you notice the difference.


Our host today are the staff at Warner Stables. Tyler our driver is taking us for a 45 minute ride, pulled by Sterling who is 12 years old and Crockett who is 14. The sleigh is timber and creaks and groans as it glides over the snow. Tyler tells us prior to leaving that we should grab as many blankets (piled high in the office near the furnace) as we can carry. We didn't have to be told twice!




Tyler and the nine of us in the sleigh headed out into a meadow. We are surrounded on all sides by the massive mountains in Banff. We crossed and circled meadows, drove through forests of pine and through the farm yards. The forests blanketed with snow look amazing and the highlight was driving through a herd of elk resting in a meadow and feeding. This was the best morning trip we've had and a fabulous morning experience in Banff.









After the sleigh ride we split up. The boys went up Sulphur Mountain on the Banff Gondola, while us ladies went for High Tea. The gondola takes about 10 minutes to reach the peak. The gondola operates year round and provides sweeping vistas of the Banff area. For the addicts, there is a Starbucks at the peak.






Mum and I enjoyed a lovely High Tea. This is held in the Rundle Room which shares the same view as we have from our room. The only exceptions are is that the windows are bigger and it is on the second floor and we are on the nineth. When we arrived the server gave us a presentation of all the teas available. You get to select two for your afternoon tea. You are then served a fruit compote to cleanse your palate prior to the tea tasting. We sat and enjoyed ourselves for 90 minutes and all the treats that we couldn't fit in were boxed up for us to take back to our room.




The lounges at the Fairmont are packed with people enjoying the warmth plus eating and drinking as you do on the holidays. Some are reading in quiet corners spaces and others are playing cards or board games. There is a wonderfully relaxing vibe here and it catches on fast. If there was one thing I found weird or different it was guests traveling with their dogs. There were at least a hundred staying here with their owners. About 90% get taken outside into the freezing conditions without a coat or protective footwear, which seemed cruel. It was confronting at first, when the animal looked uncomfortable.



I forgot to mention that we spent a nice few hours on Christmas Afternoon out playing in the snow. The Gents hire a toboggan each at $10 for two hours. Two hours is about all they can do, before they get frozen as Pat says. Part of the hotel's golf course in winter is turned into a ice rink and tobogganing slope. You can hire ice skates at the Waldhaus pub. Beedo stayed at the Waldhaus by the outdoor fire while we and more than a hundred others played in the snow. Quite a few games of ice hockey were held amongst the skating, happily. Days like this turn you into a hot chocolate addict.




Today was our last whole day in Banff. It has been a fabulous place to celebrate Christmas and very memorable to say the least. I would come back here in a heart beat. But most of all I will be back!

Posted by petty1912 18:34 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Day 21

A White Christmas in Banff.

sunny -23 °C
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Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas Everybody!

It was a very strange experience to receive greetings and blessings from our family and friends back in Australia when celebrations were still 18 hours away for us. Now that the day has finally arrived it seems like we are getting to celebrate it for a second time. The beautiful Rockies snowy vista is beaming through the window and with all the snow outside it really does feel like Christmas.


The Christmas Trees in our rooms are twinkling brightly and there are small piles of presents beneath them. We had a great time exchanging gifts and Paul was lucky enough to add to his t-shirt collection. The boys were content with under 5 small gifts each and I would like to do the same in the proceeding years. I wish!




Back home we usually have breakfast at home and a big family lunch to celebrate Christmas. Over here Christmas Dinner in the evening is the main event. We put on our Sunday best and headed to the Van Horne Ball Room for the Christmas Brunch. The ball room was beautifully decorated with festive spirit and each party had their own table. We were seated right next to the Chefs at the carvery. The buffet was actually two buffets and everything from pastries and traditional breakfast foods to roasts and roasted vegetables. Sam had two servings of Butter Chicken, something he can be certain that I won't ever serve up on Christmas Morning.





After brunch Paul and I decided to go for a hike while the boys played with their toys. It seems funny, but putting on the layers seems to take forever and as such, we try to do as much as possible outdoors before freezing to death. It was minus 23 degrees celcius which is the coldest I have ever experienced. You feel warm for awhile and before you know it your legs feel like they're on fire and you notice that ice has formed on your hair and any other surface around your face. My glasses constantly fogged up.



While hiking by the Bow and Spray Rivers we enjoyed all the sights of the snowfall and forest at this time of year. The rivers are mostly frozen and Bow Falls look quite lovely frozen insitu. Animal tracks seemed to be everywhere and I was constantly reminded of the saying "don't eat the yellow snow!". We spent nearly three hours out before retreating back to the Hotel. Now I know why the Canadian's are such vivid outdoorsy people. Living in such a beautiful country, you just have to get out and get "amongst it".


In the evening we again returned to the Van Horne Ballroom. Like the brunch our meal was amazing. All up we have had a great Christmas Day and spending it here in Banff has definitely given us a great opportunity to experience what we don't have at this time of year - Winter!

Posted by petty1912 15:41 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Day 20


sunny -24 °C
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It was 7 am that I awoke and it was pitch dark outside. The sun finally showed itself sometime between 8.30am and 9am. It revealed the most spectacular mountains covered in conifers and snow.


We are staying at the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel or The Castle as it is known. Most people have seen pictures of it in magazines or in the Scenic or Trafalgar Tours ads. It is huge and very easy to get lost. After looking around the main building we thought it might be good to go outside and have a look see.


Going on this expedition meant it took us all 15 to 20 minutes to put on all the layers of clothing to keep us warm against the elements. While we did that, being outside for more than an hour at a time meant that you got cold because most of the time the sun is obscured by the mountains or clouds. So the shade is freezing, and we seem to be always out in the shade.


Paul and Sam felt brave and went tobogganing while the rest of us decided t o explore downtown. It is Christmas Eve and the main street Banff Avenue is full of tourists and locals alike. This town has wall to wall gift/souvenir shops. It is neat and tidy and very pretty. Mountains all around.



We were travel weary today, so we didn't wander far. Pat was still cranky and just wants to go home. Sam wants to stay in the snow forever. With that in mind we decided that we needed to have fun, so we went bowling. The hotel has it's own bowling centre which is a little different to what we are used to. The balls are smaller with no finger holes and you get to bowl 3 balls not 2 per turn. In typical Petersen fashion is was bowling for "sheep stations".


The boys hate to lose and it is all very serious when things aren't going their way. So much for the fun idea. Personally I didn't come last as I always do, so I was happy. After a evening of wrapping presents and sneaking between rooms I wasn't going to be happy for long. At midnight our neighbours decided to return to their room and party on. At 2.15 am I called security.


I am dog tired and hoping that the promise of the White Christmas that should arrive in the morning, will make everything alright. Missing our Family back home and thinking of them enjoying a Christmas without us.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Posted by petty1912 22:55 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Day 19

San Francisco to Banff via Calgary

snow -24 °C
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I have not had on good experience on this trip when flying on an American Airline. Today was the crunch point of this trip as far as stress goes. Three days beforehand and the previous day I had confirmed our booking. We woke early and headed to the airport in the pouring rain. And it WAS pouring. Check in was busy and after not being able to identify where we were to line up, we caught a break and someone helped us get checked in and our luggage paid for.

While we were waiting in the departure lounge we noticed that we had all been assigned seats except for Sam. We went to a counter to ask what this meant and we were told that the seats were closed and that while were had indeed paid for five tickets our group had only been assigned 4 seats. The airline asks people to volunteer to give up their seat and they are compensated for doing so. There were three other people/groups in the same situation.


It is here that I will name the airline - United Airlines.

While I can sympathise that the holiday season is a peak time for them, they failed to provide a level of service that even they would have appreciated if they were in our shoes. They did not open the counter prior to departure in our lounge, they sent one lady who opened the boarding counter and promptly ignored anyone who asked her questions and announced that everyone with a boarding pass was to board the plane. No other staff member turned up, so this lady was left to deal with us by herself. She did that by pretending we weren't there.

The main gripe here is that the airline did not ask anyone to give up their seats, so that option wasn't offered to anyone. Paul and I decided to split up and we lined up at separate counters. As luck would have it we got the only available seat in First Class and the others missed out. We were all very emotional with one woman really giving it to United in being so disgusting in the treatment of their customers. I felt so bad to leave them behind and yet very relieved that one of us wasn't going to be left behind. I will never, ever fly with them again.


So the flight left about 25 minutes late but we arrived in Calgary almost on time. Customs and Immigration was hassle free and it was a pretty easy task finding our bus to Banff. Outside the city was blanketed in snow and it was cold. DAMN COLD. A very frosty . I have never been in weather so cold. When we collected our luggage it was freezing, we would later find out why.

The drive to Banff took just over 90 minutes. It was very comfortable in the heated bus and without any incident. Once we were in our rooms, the second slap of the day revealed itself in that all of our bags except for Pauls was wet, like the contents inside. Most of it soaking! The swearing and cursing of United Airlines continued unabated into the night and after an hour of hand washing, our rooms resembled Chinatown.

We had arrived and that was the main thing. Tomorrow we wake up in a winter wonderland and what a great thing that will be.

Posted by petty1912 22:18 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

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