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When we drove out west, we used triptik from CAA which took us along the TransCanada Highway. Pay attention to all signs, some parts do get a bit tricky. Steve and I ended up at the United States Border. You can go to the Canadian Rockies through the United States, but at this time, we wanted to go through Canada.
Not having a license, I was the navigator and Steve was the driver. I started to write letters of our drive to the people at our old job and that's when Steve asked if we should be at the United States border. Apparently there was a section in the highway where you could go right or left. One of them led you to the border. The border control guy asked us if they could check our car for drugs because apparently this happens all the time. They stripped our car and then pulled Steven into a private room where the guards searched him. They said that people go out west to sell drugs or counterfeit money; the ones who sell them, likely take them and end up taking a wrong turn. We were innocent albeit it took the guards about three hours to come to that conclusion. The guards had repacked our car and this time we could see out the back window! If you ever have too much gear and luggage, just jam it all in the car, drive to the United States border and the guards may pack it up just right!
We pulled into the national park late that night which meant that we had to set up our tents in the dark. Bad timing! The next morning we woke up, had our morning coffee and took a trek around the campsite. Steve noticed a clearing in the trees, so we made our way through to see what was beyond the clearing. The view was of a small town in the middle of the Rockies. It was breathtaking! The funny thing is that when I mentioned to some of my customers that I was venturing out to the Yukon via Banff, they told me how Banff was a town in the mountains and on the top of one mountain there was a cafe. I pictured a giant mountain with a town going around it like garland around a Christmas tree and on the top of the mountain was a café, like a star on top of a Christmas tree. Little did I know that it was a town in a valley surrounded by Rundle Mountain, Tunnel Mountain, Sulphur Mountain and Cascade Mountain.
We looked at each other and decided to pack up the car and drive into town. We started walking around, checking out all the little stores and finally the bars. We found one bar on top of a building that was only two stories high. We shot a couple games of pool which is where we made the decision to stay in Banff and look for work. The campground was pretty set up so we figured we could live there for the whole summer. Unfortunately later we were told that we could only spend two weeks at a time there. The next day we went to an internet cafe and typed up our resumes, printed them and did a little pounding of the pavement!
On my way to the bathroom that night, this guy flashes his flash light at my face and says, "Jenny?"
It was the Crazy Cook and his university friend. Apparently Tunnel Mountain was the only campsite open at that time of year and after they had checked in, they asked around if anyone saw a girl and a guy driving around in a black Daytona.
This guy says, "does she have blonde hair and a cell phone?'
"Yup, that's her. Do you know what site they're on?" They knew eventually we'd run into each other and here we were.
We decided to pick up some beer and talk about our trip to get out here. We met a few people and sang songs around the fire. The next morning, the camp Wardens were at our tent. They woke us up and said that a bear had been sighted in the area and that we had to put our beer cans in the garbage. We had left them on the table. The Wardens said that bears are attracted to the smell of the beer. Obviously, the bears are Canadian!
It is so easy to find work in Banff, the only thing is, at the beginning you can't be too picky especially if you're like us and spend more money than you realize.
We all got work in the first two weeks. I was at a souvenir shop, Steve was working at the Centre of Arts, and the Crazy Cook worked as a cook somewhere. The university friend worked at a cowboy shop and a bar. We all had staff accommodation except for Steve so he just surfed around from staff accommodation to staff accommodation.
After a month we decided to look for a place for all of us to live. We found a beautiful apartment next to the Best Western hotel. Since the owners of the building also owned the hotel, we had access to the hot tub and heated pool. The apartment had 2 bedrooms and a den. Since some people like to party in Banff, money is important. After the first month everyone said that they wanted to pay cheaper rent so they had more money to party with. We filled those rooms fast. Three girls moved into one room, the four of us moved into the other room and two guys from England slept in the den. I eventually moved into the den with the boys because I later got a job at a coffee shop and had to work at 5:30am.
If you do plan on going to Banff to work, just go for a season.
After that summer, the Crazy Cook and the university student left and Steve and I stayed behind.
You might want to visit Banff in the summer and in the winter to get the best of both worlds. You're in a little town in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, so you have quite a few mountains to choose from when it comes to either snowboarding, skiing or hiking. There are five mountains that surround Banff: Mount Norquay, Cascade Mountain, Sulphur Mountain, Rundle Mountain and Tunnel Mountain. There are three different skiing mountains: Lake Louise, Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay.
I loved Sunshine Village. It's a short drive and you take a gondola up to the village. When there's snow, you can do the ski-out. Or if you're tired, you can take the gondola down. In the mornings, we would each buy a "beaver tail", which is a deep fried pastry.
For skiing, Lake Louise is nice, it's a further drive. You don't have to take a gondola because the chair lifts are right there. There are a lot of runs to do at Lake Louise. But when you're done for the day, you have to ski out to the parking lot. After so many runs, you're legs are tired and all you want to do is sit down and relax.
If you were to visit in the summer, there are so many activities to occupy your time, that a week may just be the perfect amount of time. Be prepared for drastic weather changes, it could go from plus 20 to 0 in a split second! You can visit the information centre and get free booklets of all the hiking trails which give you the amount of kilometres of the trail and the approximate hours it may take you to hike them. They also have overnight trails.
If you are hiking a trail, use your common sense and keep in mind that there is wildlife around, like bears and cougars. When my friends and I would go hiking we would either stomp our feet or clap our hands, just so the animals around would hear us. Since they don't know what that sound is, they will run, thinking that it's danger ahead. I've hiked a few trails during the years I was in Banff and I'm still alive.
Banff also has horse riding trails. You can do a day trip or if you feel like living like a cowboy or cowgirl for a night, they have over night rides too, where you sleep outside or in a tent and have a big camp fire. Holiday on Horseback organizes these trips. Their website is: www.horseback.com. They also have a store called the Trail Rider Store where you can get all your western outer wear.
For those who like canoeing, why not try. Upstream's the way to go on the Bow River. If you go down stream, you'll head towards the Bow River Falls and probably do more damage than just smashing up your canoe! Rocky Mountain Raft Tours offers guided raft tours that are relaxing and scenic. They start off at the bottom of the falls near the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course. For reservations, call: (403) 762-3632. This rafting trip is so calm that they welcome all ages from kids to seniors and they recommend bringing along a camera.
If you like to golf, try out the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course. This course is renowned for its panoramic beauty and breathtaking views. You have the option to golf either 18 holes of 9 holes. For reservations call: (403) 762-6801.
There are many great bars and restaurants where you can eat, drink and enjoy the views, which are all extraordinary. If you're coming for a visit, look up on the internet for chalets, it usually works out to be a bit less expensive especially if there's a group of you. You can get chalets with mini kitchens, outdoor barbeques and hot tubs. We stayed at the Tunnel Mountain Chalets. Phone: 1-800-661-1859. We paid $265 for the night. It had a bedroom with a queen-size bed, a mini kitchenette, and fireplace and upstairs it had two double beds. There were six of us so it worked out to be roughly $44.50 each.
If you do plan on camping, keep your food in proper storage containers and you may want to hang them in a tree, to keep the bears away. If you plan to drink beer, before you go into your tent, walk all your beer empty's down to the proper garbage areas which have locks on them so the bears won't get to them. Bear's are attracted to nice smelly things. Be safe and be smart.
If you're looking for a natural hot spring, rent a car and drive out to Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park. It's an outdoor natural hot spring that shoots out of the mountain flowing down several step-like pools/ ponds, and then leads into the river. The first pool/ pond is boarded up but then the second is uncovered and the further down you go, the cooler the pools get. It's really cool, because you're sitting out in the middle of Rocky Mountains, in sand with rocks around you. The place is well kept because it is in a national park and it's free.
I served at an Irish Pub and we'd often get tourists in to whom I'd point out sightseeing spots. I'd get my map out and highlight Banff's attractions.
On day one, you can start off by going to the trail that leads you out to the Vermillion Lakes. Then head back to town and walk up to the "old" hot springs called the Cave and Basin Centennial Centre, which has all the history behind the pools, then head up to the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel and walk around. There is a nice restaurant that overlooks the golf course and the Bow River. By now it might be late afternoon. At the Banff Springs Hotel you can pay $20 to use their swimming pool, outdoor heated pool and indoor hot tub.
On day two, drive up to the Rimrock Hotel, have a look around there, maybe have breakfast then go over to the Sulphur Mountain Gondola which will take you up to the top where there's this big restaurant and a boardwalk that you can walk on. Maybe have lunch at the restaurant, and keep a watch out for Mountain Goats.
Up from the parking lot is the Banff Upper Hot Springs. You could venture up there and have a soak, then maybe drive out to the Hoodoos which are located around Tunnel Mountain. The Hoodoos are these strange-looking formations that can be seen in Banff National Park. They are described as "Missile-like" and were "carved out of the earth by a mix of erosion, wind, rain and surface water." There are a few locations and one is at Tunnel Mountain. If you were to do the raft trip, you would see these from there as well.
Day three would be another drive with the first stop, Johnston Canyon, which is on your way to Lake Louise. There is a trail that leads you to the lower falls, the upper falls and the Ink Pots. I've only gone as far as the upper falls as the trail is only 2.7km. To get to the Ink Pots, you're looking at about 4.5 hours round trip. From what I've read, the Ink Pots are six greenish blue pools that are filled with fresh spring water. Apparently you can see the spring water bubbling up from the bottom of the Ink Pots.
Next stop: The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. The hotel overlooks a legendary lake and is surrounded by snow-frosted mountains. Here you can rent a canoe for the day and have a little row around the lake as well as go horseback riding.
If you're coming during the winter, come during the Winter Festival which usually takes place around the first week of January. Christmas in Banff is beautiful. It's like a winter wonderland.
During the Winter Festival at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, you'll see amazing ice sculptures. The people are so talented; they build so many incredible statues along with an "Ice Castle" which is on the frozen lake that you can either skate around or go inside. Then once you're done, enjoy a nice hot chocolate in a restaurant in the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise that overlooks the frozen lake and mountains.
In the winter, you can still do many of the hiking trails in Banff and Lake Louise. Be careful and wear the proper footwear. We used to hike up Tunnel Mountain all the time. It can either be a thirty minute hike or, if you're feeling like you have a lot of energy, you can drive down to the very bottom of Tunnel Mountain and hike up from there.
Another good hike is the trail at the bottom of Cascade Mountain. My friend and I drove up to Mount Norquay, parked the car, and then started on our adventure that took us through this valley which was just spectacular. It led us to the beginning of the trail to hike Cascade Mountain. We read the sign that we thought said it was 3 km to the top. Well, after a strenuous hike up this trail that was literally on a 45 degree angle for about thirty minutes, we reached another sign. This sign read that it would be another (so many) kilometres to reach the Cascade Amphitheatre. It was a good work out to this point but we just turned around and went back to the car.
Restaurants: Almost every restaurant in Banff is amazing! They cater to such a diverse crowd that you can get anything you want. If you like steak, you must stop off at Bumpers. As the sign reads, you haven't been to Banff if you haven't been to Bumpers. Try something out of the ordinary, The Grizzly House. This is a fondue place and for $40 person, you can get an appetizer fondue, dinner and dessert. The uniqueness of this restaurant is something to write home about. Some tables are separated from the other tables by walls or by a curtain. The tables have phones on them and the bathrooms have phones on the walls. So you can call table to table or bathroom to your table, just for kicks.
My favourite restaurant is Coyotes South Western Restaurant. This is where you can get my favourite, stuffed French toast. I won't even tell you what's in it, because you have to try it out for yourself. Don't forget to call and reserve. Coyotes fills up fast, so reserve! reserve! reserve!
For those of you who want to drink their way around Banff. I would always tell my guests to go on their own pub crawl. Not get out of hand, but Banff has so many bars to go to that you want to be able to visit all of them. With your Banff map in hand, start from the first bar and work your way up. You can probably do five bars one night and the next night do five more. Most of the bars/pubs have bands and one of the bars will sometimes have concerts going on. I saw Biff Naked, David Wilcox, Run DMC and Big Sugar at this bar called Wild Bills. Usually from Thursday to Sunday, most bars have bands. One of my favourite bars is the St. Jame's Gate Irish Pub. They usually have live Irish bands.
Excerpted from THE WORLD As I Know It by Jennifer Berry Copyright © 2011 by JENNIFER BERRY. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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