Banff, Alberta

Oh dear, I just got banff’ed. 

I imagine myself on a Sunday afternoon somewhere in the year 2065 where my possible teenage grandchildren will come and visit me and will ask me for a cool story from when I was young.

I will tell the Tales of Banff.

The Tale of Julia Twerk and Gordon Scoop

We all have those kind of friends. Whenever you are together with them you get into trouble, without even trying. Julia and Gordon are two of those friends that formed a dangerous combination in Banff. The first time we went to Banff we ended up in ‘The Dancing Sasquatch’. Let’s say we have been pre drinking for a bit and  the moment we entered the place, we lost each other and started three different stories.

Let’s start with my story, which didn’t end well and is the least exciting. I blame it on the change of altitude that made me malfunction but somehow I felt really tired and rested my head for a moment on a table. The next moment I remember is being kicked out of the club after five minutes while my two friends were inside having the time of their life. After trying to get back in, which was fruitless, I ran into a colleague of the lodge and her friend, Keith. I was happy to see her. So happy I could puke. And I did. Multiple times. All the way home and landed into bed where my friend dropped me around 3 AM. They saved my life that night and left to look for Julia and Gordon.

The story of Julia Twerk has a more happy ending. While I was being removed from the scene she was dancing her life away in the spotlights. She had a blast until she woke up in a hotel room she didn’t recognise the next morning. She woke up in the couch with a note and a glass of water next to it. She jumped up and ran to our actual hotel room. There she found me around 5 AM.

And the story of Gordon Scoop is just weird. While I was being removed from the scene and Julia was dancing her life away, Gordon was making a bunch of new friends. He was getting so well acquainted he raised his drinks with them and then poured his drink into someone else’s drink. The outrage was complete when Gordon tried to literally scoop his drink out of the glass of the guy. He had a great time until he woke up on a pull out bed in the middle of the hallway with a Mexican family staring at him. Confusion was complete when he tried to explain to the lady of the house that he worked here (who was he kidding…). Gordon was asked to leave. Once outside, he noticed he ended up on the other side of town. He made his way back to the actual hotel where Julia and I saw him stumble in around 7 AM.

Who says you need Vegas to have a ‘Hangover’ story ? We went for breakfast and all shared our stories. We laughed hard.

Another one of those, kids ?

The Tale of the Shady Shed

Another trouble friend I have is Sarah. We made the last minute decision to go to Banff again. Of course good old Gordon was game and his buddy from Ontario joined us. A friend drove us there and dropped us off. We got out of the car and looked for a place to stay the night.

Apparently it was busy in Banff that weekend because all accommodation was sold out. We didn’t worry too much and would figure out where we would lay our heads later. We ended up in… ‘The Dancing Sasquatch’. I recognised the bouncer was working there as well today. Luckily, this time I was already adjusted to the altitude. We got in but soon enough we lost one of us. I’m telling you, that place has a sort of hidden portal.

We didn’t worry too much about our friend and got some ‘time machines’. A very popular cocktail with an overdose of sugar. At least it kept us going until the place closed. Then the worrying started. Where are we staying tonight ? It started raining now as well and we went for some pizza. Our friend was still traceless. After looking for places we could spend our night we ended up in a dusty shed on the outskirts of town. I must admit I never had this type of accommodation in my life. After sharing our pizza with a homeless guy and retrieving our long lost friend we called it a night. Waking up on concrete is like showering with glue, it shouldn’t happen. We got up, shook off the dust and got out of there. Speaking of a cheap way of traveling AND a story to tell.

There are so many stories when I think of Banff. Like the one with lost iPhone, the one with the fire hydrant, the one with the 300 dollar fine or the one with the mushrooms…

Let’s just say Banff is a great place to have a good time. There are a handful of good bars, bunch of restaurants and the town is nestled in between mountains with Mount Rundle as the most profound one of all.

The Tale of Barpa Bill

For good food, go check out Barpa Bills. Barpa Bill is originally from Greece and came on vacation to Banff years ago. He loved it so much that once he got home he decided to leave it all behind and move to this little town. My hero. Nowadays he still runs the place with his son. The burgers and wraps are just delicious !

The Tale of the Morning After

Another great breakfast place is Melissa’s Missteak. You have a wide range of breakfast options and the service is great. Perfect place to cure a hangover. Not special stories here, just good food !

The Untold Tales

And then there are stories that are just not meant for posting on a public blog. Because they are too long, too inappropriate or too irrelevant for anyone except the ones you share the memories with. Some memories should be kept close to your heart and shouldn’t be posted on a blog. Readers wouldn’t feel the same way you want them to feel and you would be left with a feeling of misunderstanding. The Untold Tales belong in the head of those who experienced it.

Beyond the Tales

What else it there except good stories and food ?

Cheap Bastard Tip : You can take the Banff Gondola all the way up the mountain where you’ll have a great view over Banff. If you have time and a pair of hiking shoes I would recommend to hike the switchback all the way up. It saves some dollars. (Although you should at least have a Gondola Experience somewhere in Western Canada).

Hiking : You can make a nice hike from the town centre to the Bow Falls and all the way to the Fairmont Banff Springs. For the more experienced souls there is the climbing of ‘Rundle’.

Lake Louise : Hiking

You can’t fall if you don’t climb. But there is no joy in living your whole life on the ground.

Hiking around Lake Louise is worth your time.

If you want an easy stroll you can start with the lake view trail.

For those who don’t have that much time you can go try the Fairview Lookout. An half an hour climb to a magnificent lookout view over the Lake and the Fairmont (all year). This trail starts close to the canoe docks, on your left from the lake with the Fairmont behind you.

The more extensive hikes are the ‘Plain of Six Glaciers’ , ‘The Big Beehive’ and the trail to ‘Lake Agnes‘. All these hikes are accessible during summer only and start on the right side of the lake (if you are facing the lake with the Fairmont behind you). Make sure you stop at the teahouses for a nice little break.

Lake Louise, Alberta

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

We all have seen Lake Louise.

If it isn’t with our own eyes, then through a postcard from your aunt Suzy or from a cover photo of your ‘1001 things to see before I die’ guide that is catching dust on your shelves.

The pictures don’t lie, Lake Louise is a gorgeous place to be. It just gets REALLY crowded during the summer months. Don’t be surprised to see a whole herd of people trying to take their perfect picture of the lake. Golden advice here again is … come early to see the lake and go hiking afterwards.

Bring a visit to the Chateau Lake Louise while you are there.

During the summer months you can go hiking (More information about this in my next blog) or canoeing (although Moraine Lake has cheaper rates).

During the winter months you can go hiking, skiing, cross country skiing, ice skating, ice hockey… plenty of choices for the Canadian sport fans there but I recommend to try them all. It’s pretty neat to play ice hockey with your friends on the frozen lake while the sun is setting over the mountains.

Lake Louise village is right next the highway 1 where you can buy groceries, liquor and your typical souvenirs. There are some bars and restaurants there too.

HI Hostel Lake Louise has a nice restaurant where you order good food for a decent price.

For pizza, Timberwolf is your go to place.

Moraine Lake Hikes : Advanced

Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing

One of the most memorable things I have done this summer or even in my life are climbing mountain tops in the Canadian Rockies. After hours of sweating, heavily breathing and cursing I managed to reach the top and an inevitable smile appears when I look at my comrades. The view up there makes you forget about all the hard work you’ve put into this climb. For a second you realise how quiet it is up there and how small you really are in this universe. You take a breath and after that follows a photo shoot with you and your friends before having one of the most scenic lunches of your life. Eifel Peak and Temple are two of those views.

Eifel Peak : The first hike of my season in the mountains… I wasn’t really prepared for this intense hike but I managed to make it to the top in three hours. To get there you follow the trail to Larch Valley that starts at the canoe docks. From Larch Valley you follow the trail to Sentinel Pass but on the way there you will pass three benches. At those benches, make a left and walk on making your way down until you reach a river. Cross the river and scramble your way up to the other side of the ‘valley’. There you will see a path going direction the mountain. Follow the path that changes into a bunch of broken rock fragments until you find your first inukshuk on your way up mountain. There are multiple paths that lead to the top. Enjoy the spectacular view !

Temple : And for those who really want to go all the way there is Temple. A 4-5 hour climb that starts at the canoe docks. Follow Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass. At Sentinel Pass you make a right and from there on you can follow the little markers (studying the track of the hike is strongly recommended). The hike is quite intense and has a vertical climb in it. Check weather conditions because the summit of Temple is only accessible during a very short window each year. Typically late July to Mid August. I missed this window by two weeks and ended up 400 meters from the summit. My finish line was thwarted by an ice field that was created a couple days before I hiked up there. A major bummer but still a great accomplishment and splendid views.

Moraine Lake Hikes : Intermediate

I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery – air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy”

If you have a couple of hours and the easy hikes around Moraine are not enough for you then it might be your lucky day because there are some intermediate hikes that take you a couple of hours to complete.

Larch Valley : This trail is a very popular one. Starting point is at the canoe docks. The trail basically consists out of a bunch of nasty switchbacks that take you all the way to Larch Valley. But the view is fantastic, especially if you come in September when the larch trees turn golden, a must see but make sure you come early. There are special buses that run between Moraine Lake and the Lake Louise Overflow parking (Highway 1) during those few weeks in September.

Sentinel Pass : If you want to continue on this trail you will hike all the way to Sentinel Pass. From here you have a beautiful view over Larch Valley on the one side and Paradise Valley on the other side. Definitely worth the stretch if you ask me.

The Tower of Babel : This is one is a little tricky. The trail for the Tower of Babel isn’t really the greatest one because there is no actual trail. You start at the parking lot and start on the rock pile trail, then take a left to continue on the Consolation Lake Trail and once you crossed the rocks that washed out the path take a right through the trees. There you will encounter more rocks and the start of your scramble all the way up to the Tower of Babel. It is an intense scramble but the view over Moraine Lake is just breathtaking.

Moraine Lake Hikes : Beginner

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.  

If you choose Moraine Lake as your starting point of a hike, you are a in for a treat.

There is a hike for every kind of hiker.

These hikes only accessible during the summer season (June-October).

If you don’t have a lot of time or if you don’t like to hike all that much than you can hike the rock pile or do the lakeshore trail.

Lakeshore Trail : a nice flat trail along the lake with nice views of the ten peaks and people enjoying their canoe ride. The trail start next to the canoe docks.

Rock pile : The classic stroll. The trail starts on the parking lot next to the public toilets. Make your way up and take that money shot that used to be on the back of a Canadian 20 dollar bill

Consolation Lake : A nice and easy hike that leads you to quiet spot in between the mountains. Please make sure you are traveling in a group of four as there might be a bear warning in this area. This trail starts at the parking lot where the Rock pile trail starts. A little further down the trail there will be a trail continuing on the left. Follow that trail over the rocks that washed out the trail. A little further you’ll find a path again.

Moraine Lake, Alberta

If you’re lucky enough to live in the mountains… you’re lucky enough.

After the few initial days in Calgary I collected three facts.

The first fact : Belgium (my home country) was still in the World Cup and had to play against the United States. I was thrilled to see the game but haven’t met any fellow Belgians so far. I ended up in a pub downtown Calgary where a bunch of people were watching the game Belgium – USA. It was only when Belgium scored the first goal that I realised I was the only one cheering in the crowd. Well me and two Canadian girls next to me at the bar who rooted for Belgium because they abominated the USA for reasons unknown. Fact one, Belgium won that game, but I could not fully celebrate the victory like I did last week in Belgium. I missed my friends.

The second fact : I emailed a friend who was working up in the mountains. I told her I arrived in Calgary and we could meet up whenever she had the time. Maybe she had an idea where I could find a job or give me some good tips. A couple hours later she already replied with the news they were looking for an extra employee at their lodge. The only thing was, I had to get there as soon as possible. I immediately checked buses and rental cars but the Calgary Stampede had officially started and the cowboys and cowgirls no longer use their horses to make their way to Calgary anymore. All transportation was sold out. Fact two, I was screwed.

The third fact : There was one last option… hitchhiking. I tried my luck the next morning and after walking for two hours I got my first ride… for the full five minutes and got dropped off in the middle of nowhere. Luckily a second ride followed not that long after and a third one brought me all the way up to a breathtaking location, Moraine Lake. I met my friend, talked to the manager and got the job. Fact three, Where’s a will is a way. I got a job and the location was awesome.

Sasha the Raven Travel Tips : Moraine Lake is a must see during your visit in Western Canada. Although it is less busy than its big sister Lake Louise it does get busier every year. Your best bet is to come as early as possible (before 9 AM) to visit the lake to avoid the crowds and to have decent parking.

Canoe rentals are cheaper at Moraine Lake ( $ 50 CAD/hour (2014 season) than at Lake Louise.

If Moraine Lake is a quick stop on your travel itinerary then… shame on you. If you don’t have a lot of time make sure you have half an hour to climb to the rock pile (there is an easy trail that takes you there so no need to climb the rocks and get yourself wet and injured).

The (only) road to Moraine Lake is generally open from early June until mid October.

Calgary, Alberta

Maybe something in his dream chased him

We all have this kind of voice within us. This dream we want to make come true. Some of us have the deepest desire to build a house, have a family, have a successful business. Others among us dream of leaving everything behind and explore new horizons. Whatever your calling may be in life, stop dreaming. Chase your dream instead.

My Canadian Adventure started in Calgary last June, right before the Calgary Stampede. Little did I know that I was at the start of an awesome journey that would bring me from the plain landscapes of Calgary to the majestic Rocky Mountains to end up on the beautiful west coast where I would spend my winter.

If you are traveling to Calgary begin July make sure you have accommodation and mode of transportation booked before you arrive here because everything gets really expensive and sells out quickly.

Cheap Bastard Travel Tip : The first thing people would go to for a great view of the city would the Calgary Tower but if you would like to save those $ 18 CAD for a good view of the city I would recommend to go to Crescent Heights. It is a bit of a walk but it takes you through the Prince’s Island Park and over the Bow River. Climb the long staircase and enjoy the view while you catch your breath. Okay, okay – it’s not the same panorama view but definitely satisfied my hunger. Also a great viewpoint for whenever there are fireworks in the city (like Canada Day).

Where to stay ? HI Hostel is recently renovated (June 2014) and has all the things you need for a comfortable stay as a backpacker.