Over the weekend, my good pal and fellow travel writer extraordinaire, Holly, experienced nearly the EXACT same itinerary around Alberta as I followed last summer when I, too, hopped up from San Francisco to Canada and subsequently fell in love with its awesomeness. Only, um not really at all, seeing as I was there in the height of summer and she in the dead of winter. So while our schedules were pretty comparable in terms of hotels we visited (most of the Fairmont variety), food we ate (bring on the bison!) and sites we visited (gondola, hot springs, etc.), we actually had completely opposite experiences.
While I’ve gone into extensive detail about Banff, it occurred to me that my trip coincided with the death of my grandmother, and due to a particular amount of chaos that ensued trying to get myself to Calgary and, from there, back to Tennessee, I never quite did Lake Louise justice.
Last July—prime Alberta travel conditions, let me tell ya—I was in Canada for 10 days working on a series of assignments. Whereas, I’m often stuck going at it alone (not the most ideal circumstances when seeing the world, as you have NO ONE to share the experience with, and likewise eventually end up going insane after singing so many rounds of the world’s most annoying camp song “I Don’t Care if I Go Crazy,” to yourself); however, the glorious people of the Canadian board of tourism allowed me to take a guest. And since ideally I would take SVV everywhere, all the time, he has a normal job and can’t just pack up and go every time I land a cool gig.
Instead, I took my pal Evan, a med student who was my partner-in-nightly-Strongbow-consumption six years ago while we were both studying abroad in Edinburgh, which turned out to be a wise choice, as there was still a fair amount of schmoozing (read: work dinners) that had to go on, and Evan can get a flock of pigeons to talk back to her, she’s so chatty (in fact, she makes me, Queen of the Loquacious, seemingly channel Helen Keller). Better yet, unbeknown to me, the Powers that Be (those planning my itinerary) tacked on a couple of leisurely days in Banff and Lake Louise after we spent 48 hours on the Geriatric Express, thus cementing a life-long love affair with our northern neighbor.
While Banff is the center of commercial activity in the area, there’s not a whole lot to do per se in Lake Louise, that’s kind of precisely why you go there. In my professional writing, I try to use trite vocabulary like picturesque, magical, atmospheric, awe-inspiring, majestic (which I refer to as “Lonely Planet words”); well, let’s just say Lake Louise was all of the above and more. I could have been perfectly content for the duration of my stay staring at this:
You see that in the background, way up high? A GLACIER. It’s a bit bizarre to be sweating cobs, as the Brits might say, while donning a paper-thin sundress, when a massive 10-ton block of ice hovers above you not far in the distance. We spent our sole day in Lake Louise doing what many travelers who came before us did, as well, by soaking up an array of outdoor activities. We kayaked the length of the lake (um, note to sole kayak rental place: $50+ for an hour’s rental is a BIT excessive):
Then, we went on a bit of a wildlife safari/hike around the perimeter hoping to spot a moose, or a long-horned sheep at the very least. Instead, we saw this:
It looked like a beaver, only bigger and meaner. I screamed and looked for a place to run. Alas, there was nowhere to go. So I jumped on a rock instead, until it glared me down, shrugged and waddled off into the brush. Initially, I feared it might be a ROUS (Rodent of Unusual Size, and if you don’t know the source of that movie, shame on you!); instead, it turned out to be merely a particularly rotund marmot.
Many people who travel to the area come to check the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise off their life list. Evan and I stayed there a night. While I won’t say it was the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in—yes, it is a tad overpriced and I’ve visited plenty of California properties that are much nicer in terms of actual accommodation—simply put, you’re paying for the view (it’s the only hotel with its butt literally TOUCHING THE LAKE) and the experience of it all (the place should be its own municipality). Don’t believe me? Here’s the sunrise from our suite window:
I can’t even tell you how many restaurants the Chateau has or people it houses (bad, bad travel writer!), but I will say this, I had to revisit the front desk often for a map or directions to somewhere or the other, directions which were doled out like so: “Take the third left after the harpist, travel down the corridor, you’ll find yourself in the west wing alongside a grand piano, then take the elevator up five floors.” Needless to elaborate, the place is MASSIVE.
It happened to be Evan’s birthday the night we stayed there, so we got all gussied up and found ourselves indulging in $100 worth of fondue (and probably around the same in overpriced fancy cocktails) at the hotel’s Walliser Stube restaurant with new pal, Killian, who plays babysitter tour guide for large groups of 80-year-old Kiwis and Aussies who come over for three-week tours throughout BC and Alberta. Not a bad way to ring in your quarter-century celebration, eh?
Alas, in there mere 24 hours we spent at the lake, our dream of seeing a “bear jam” (in which a grizzly serves as a roadblock) or spotting elk just outside our window was never realized, but I’d say I left Canada fulfilled and with even more of an incentive to return, very soon.