Lake Louise, Banff

Rather spontaneously, I booked a trip to North America just three months before my departure date. For once, the spontaneous travel decision had less to do with me and more to do with travel plans of a good friend of mine, J, who had decided to return to New York in October for a short holiday. J had previously lived in New York for a year, and I thought it would be good to visit New York with a friend who had lived there, rather than on my own.

I designated the longest time to spend in New York, and initially planned to spend the entire two weeks of my leave there. After further deliberation though, I decided to spend some time traveling around North America on my own, as I had no idea when I would be back next. That was how I ended up making a super short (two nights, to be exact) trip to Calgary.

I flew out from SFO on a Monday morning around 11am, on a flight operated by Air Canada, on a small Bombardier aircraft, with two rows of two seats. The flight was direct, around 4 hours. I landed at YYC at 4:30pm on a Monday, and had booked a shuttle bus service from Calgary to Banff. It was a two hour trip from Calgary International to Banff, and I slept on the way. I would wake up intermittently and look out the window to see a rolling white expanse, with snow covered tree tops passing by.

Here is the worst part of the trip and embarrassing mishap: I got dropped off at the wrong hostel, which happens to be a hostel chain. They had two in nearby locations- HI Banff and HI Lake Louise. I had wrongly booked my shuttle bus to HI Banff as they didn’t do a service to HI Lake Louise, and found out when I got there and tried to check in. I was able to order a taxi from the hostel, and while on the way to the right hostel, the cab driver asked me about the economy in Sydney, which led to him revealing his life story and how he ended up working as a cab driver in Banff. It’s funny how much people will share about their lives to complete strangers.

40 minutes and $100 later, I arrived at HI Lake Louise, checked in quickly and dumped my stuff in my room. When I got in, there was just one another girl in the four room dorm, and we exchanged a brief hello before I went to get something to eat at the cafe next to hostel reception.

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Poutine

There was a cafe called Bill Peyto’s, conveniently located right next to the hostel reception. It was around 7:30 on a Monday night when I came in, and the cafe was busy. When I came in, a waitress greeted me and said I could sit anywhere I liked. I took a seat at a six person table with a young girl sitting across from me. She looked up and said hi when I sat down, then went back to writing in her notebook.

The waitress came back after leaving me alone with the menu for a few minutes, and I ordered the poutine, despite the cafe being out of cheese curds. After about 10 minutes, the waitress returned with the poutine, pictured in the above picture. Even without cheese curds, they were still delicious, and I ate them with great relish. While eating, the girl sitting at the table and I chatted about the beauty of Lake Louise, and Canada in general.

After finishing, I paid the bill, with tip, and left. I spent some time researching shuttle bus companies to take me back to Calgary Airport on Wednesday morning, and after finding only one company (Brewster Express), I booked it, and prayed it would get me to the airport in time for my 10:30am flight. Afterwards, I went back to my room and slept early.

The next morning, I was awoken at god knows what hour by the sound of my roommate getting up and getting ready to leave, and dragging her luggage out of the room. She had the decency not to turn the light on. After she left, I flip flopped and tossed and turned in bed for another half an hour or so, trying to get back to sleep, but couldn’t. So I gave up, took a shower and dressed and decided to get breakfast at the cafe I had eaten dinner at the previous night.

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I ordered my usual favourite sweet breakfast- pancakes. Bill Peyto’s pancakes were fluffy, and dusted with caster sugar. I drowned them in maple syrup and ate them with relish. After finishing breakfast, I paid the bill and asked the hostel receptionist for directions on how to hike to Lake Louise.

She gave me a map and highlighted the path in orange, describing the landmarks I would see on the way so I would know I was heading in the right direction. She asked if I was heading alone, I said yes, to which she asked if I wanted bear spray. The Canadian Rockies are well known for grizzly bears, and it was for this reason that my mother had told me not to go hiking on my own. As usual, I didn’t take her advice. I also didn’t take any bear spray.

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Starting the hike from HI Lake Louise

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And so I set off from the hostel, on the tramline trail, which was about a 4km hike each way. The receptionist told me it should take about 40 minutes to hike each way, but it took me a lot longer, as I was tramping in the sleet and thick piles of snow with not enough layers and my Nike free runs. I came unprepared, without gloves, and though I was wearing four layers (of thin clothing), I was freezing in the minus one weather.

It was an easy hike, and would have been more pleasant had I been dressed more warmly and also not thinking of grizzly bears popping out to maul me at every corner. The trail was flat, and still contained the footprints of those who had walked it before me, perhaps that morning.

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For someone who hasn’t seen a lot of snow in her life before, it’s always a delight to travel to a country and experience a view like this. However, by the end of the hike, my face and hands were bright red from the biting cold, and all I wanted to do was arrive.

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About 70 minutes after I started the hike, I reached a carpark, and followed the people getting out a short distance to Lake Louise.

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It’s an exhilarating feeling to finally arrive at a place you’ve taken so long to get to. I walked up to the lake with the swarm of other tourists coming out of Chateau Fairmont, and started taking pictures.

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In a nutshell, the view was breathtaking. I wanted so badly to sit by the lake and read all day and read, which I would have done, if not for the snow and the cold.

After taking a few pictures at the front of the lake, I walked around the lake to get a view of Fairmont Chateau from the other side. While I was walking around the lake, I asked a girl to take my picture. Coincidentally, she happened to be Australian, and we chatted briefly about the beauty of Canada and how there were so many Australians there.

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I continued walking around the lake, and as I paused at times to get more photos, people would stop and ask me to take their pictures, and I would get mine taken in return; a sort of ‘traveller’s exchange’. When I stopped at one point, I saw a middle aged Chinese man with a DSLR camera on the rocks nearby. He caught my eye and motioned to me. He didn’t speak any English, I didn’t speak any Cantonese but somehow we communicated. He gestured for me to take some photos of him, and frowned with displeasure when I took photos he didn’t like. In return, he took some photos of me, first with my DSLR, which I understood he thought were too dark, which then led to him taking photos of me on his DSLR. He then held out notes on his phone, saying “email”, which I took to mean he would email me the pictures. To this day, I haven’t received them.

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The other side of Lake Louise, with Chateau Fairmont in the distance

The other side of the lake attracted less tourists, and was completely frozen. The layers of top ice were thin, and cracked under your feet if you walked with a heavy step.

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After I was done with gazing at the lake and was satisfied with the number of photos I had taken, I ventured into Fairmont Chateau and had lunch at the hotel cafe and looked around in the hotel’s souvenir store. I was so cold I bought a pair of tacky mittens, with ‘Canada’, and a maple leaf embroidered into them that I would never wear back in Sydney. The store assistant asked me where I was from, and when I said ‘Australia’, he said there were so many Australians in Canada this time of year, he was surprised there were any left in Australia.

After I sufficiently warmed up, I began wearily trudging back to the hostel. I got back to Lake Louise town around 3pm, and decided to check out the local grocery store to see if there were any local Canadian goodies. After perusing the aisles briefly, I got a packet of Lays bacon poutine chips, and walked back to the hostel.

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I decided to hang in my room and snack for a bit, but it wasn’t long before the door opened, and someone came in. My next roommate was a French woman who was currently living in another part of Canada. We chatted for a bit, and before long she extended an invitation to me for a ride to Lake Louise the next morning, which I unfortunately had to turn down. After chatting for a bit, I went to have an early dinner at Bill Peyto’s, and ordered the Chill Poutine.

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The Chilli Poutine was heavy, topped with ground beef, shallots, spicy barbecue sauce, and sour cream. It very much resembled nachos in taste, and while pleasant to eat, I much preferred regular poutine. After dinner, I went to chill in the hostel common room above the cafe. The Wi-Fi was okay, but not great, and it was frustrating to me as I was navigating Expedia and Skyscanner, thinking about whether I should buy another flight in the case that I did miss my flight the next morning. While I was browsing the Internet, a woman came and started chatting to me and asked if I wanted to hike with her to another nearby lake (not Lake Louise) the next day, which I also unfortunately had to turn down.

We then got into a conversation about our travels, and how she had been on the road traveling for 18 months. I found her story inspiring and was gladdened by the spontaneous encounters that I’d had in Canada. Hostels may not always be the most comfortable forms of accommodation but really appeal to my sense of novelty and adventure- you never know who you’re going to meet or what could happen.

The next day, I woke up at 5:50am and checked out of the hostel, and waited outside for the Brewster Connect. The bus driver was Japanese, and had an efficient and professional manner. We stopped at a nearby bus depot for half an hour, and I had a light breakfast of yoghurt and granola from Tim Horton’s. After getting back on the bus, I fell asleep for some time, and awoke just before arriving at Calgary International Airport. My flight was a 10:30am flight with WestJet, and I arrived at the airport to check in at 9:40am. The WestJet staff at the check-in counter told me when I came to check-in, that I had unfortunately missed my flight. They offered me a free flight on a morning service the next day, but arriving in New York a day later than initially planned was inconceivable to me, so I booked the next flight to NYC, with United Airlines, flying into Newark departing Calgary at 2pm. The last minute flight made a conspicuous dent in my wallet. And there ended my brief travels in Canada.

 

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