Friday, June 30, 2006

World's largest Mirrors...!

Isn't the title interesting?? Once you read this and see the photos attached, you will know exactly why!
Our first day was spent exploring downtown Banff, and sights in and around the townsite...which in itself has numerous attractions to offer. There are so many scenic drives, lakes and valleys, that one gets easily confused with all the great choices.
We went driving to and around Lake "Minnewanka" after we learnt how to say it!!! It was a little tongue twister, but once we got it down, it actually felt good saying it! It was late evening, and that is what is nice about this place in general. There was hardly a soul around, and felt like we were at a private lake, and had it all to ourselves. The serene waters have a natural calming effect. It felt wonderful.
Further along the Minnewanka loop, towards our return back to the townsite, are these un-believable hidden ponds called CASCADE PONDS. At the outset, this looked like any regular tourist attraction, with benches, small beach/picnic area and the mountains in the distance.
It was only when we stepped out of the car, and started walking towards it, that we realized what this place was all about! It was like we were smiling from our stomachs, if you can ever imagine that....firstly, there are many small ponds...and the big secret about them, is that they appear as sheets of mirror that hold within them some of the largest reflections of the mountains and sky above and around them! And if you look at the photos here, you would know what I am talking about...the perfectly still waters, seemed un-real and held in them what the largest wide-angle cameras couldn't.
These man-made wooden bridges that went across them (as shown in the picture here), were built like a dream! We found ourselves in magic wonderland, with un-surpassed beauty surrounding us. The Cascade ponds are a must for anyone to see and experience in the area. You do not want to miss out on seeing the world's largest natural mirrors!
TIP: Day time destinations have throngs of tourists all over the place, who take up your time, (parking)space and sometimes patience!! But if you want the place literally all to yourself, go later in the afternoon or early evening, when most of the bus loads of camera-snapping tourists have departed, towards their hotel stay for the night. This is when you have the place all to yourself and have complete bragging rights!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Trans Canadian Highway

Did you know that the Trans Canadian Hwy is the world's longest National Highway with a length of 7821 km (4860 miles)!! It extends between Victoria in British Columbia and St. John's in New Foundland. We were looking forward to driving on this historic road...and were welcomed by spectacular scenery and towering mountains on every turn and bend. Just a few miles outside the town of Calgary, the Trans Canadian Hwy is your best bet to get to Banff National Park. The distance is hardly 104 km(64 miles) but take your time admiring this manmade wonder.
It was a foggy morning as we set out towards Banff, but halfway there, the weather started to clear and the gave way to the most magnificent sight of mountains, water and valley. It was an uplifting and at the same time humbling experience. As you drove further, the peaks only escalated in height, and proportion...and after watching them stand tall and strong all the way through, you almost could see the might and power they possessed. It was a very overpowering experience.

The evergreen tree line skirting the lake and mountains, and the fresh crisp air, gave us such an energy boost, that we couldn't wait to reach Banff!
TIP: Just along the highway, there are quite a few inconspicuous view points where the relaxed traveler could pull in to absorb nature in its most pure and pristine settings. It was on one such turn, that we unexpectedly came across the Lake of the Arc. Keep your eyes peeled for such spots along the way!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Going through the gates...(to heaven)

After experiencing the pleasure of driving on the Trans Canadian Hwy, for close to 3 hours (remember, we took our time admiring the sights)... we found ourselves approaching the entrance to Banff National Park.

If there was ever a description of the gates that lead to heaven, then this has got to be the inspiration behind that quote. We already liked what little we had seen so far, and come to realize later that this part of the country is blessed with the most beautiful vistas in the world.

Nature here is so pure and untouched that you want to think twice before invading its peace and leaving your footprint behind.

Banff National Park is Canada's first national park in Alberta.From its humble beginnings as a 26 square kilometer hot springs reserve, Banff National Park now comprises of 6,641 square kilometers of unparalleled mountain scenery nestled in the heart of the magnificent Canadian Rockies.

There might have been a hint of exhaustion from lack of sleep and travel but one look at this place, and we forgot to spell the word 'tired'. The spirit of nature engulfs you and uplifts you in a manner second to none. And all this was still just DAY 1!

TIP: It so happened that one of our 4-day stay in the park was CANADA DAY, a national holiday (July 1st) and the entrance fee to the park for that day is free! We were lucky!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Cowboy Country

The flight from Minneapolis to Calgary is a very comfortable 2.5 hour trip. And for us, the excitement was enough to make time fly. Opting for the Window seat, on this flight, was a good choice, as it gave us a glimpse of the grandeur that we were about to embark on! We couldn’t wait to get going. The reason why this journal entry is titled ‘Cowboy Country’ is because every year in July, Calgary is host to one of the largest influx of all things ‘country’…its called the Calgary Stampede. This is “the” event in Calgary, and is year marked with hotel rooms being booked sometimes 6 months to a year in advance!! If Rodeos and chuck wagon races are your thing…look no further.

But for us, the Stampede…wasn’t …quite what we were into, we were charting course on a different experience…and so didn’t spend too much time in Calgary at all, other than to get to the car rental at the airport and pick up a neat, new dark blue Chrysler Sebring for our trip to the mountains!

TIP: if you plan to drive west to Banff, depending on time of arrival, try avoiding the shorter route through downtown Calgary to Hwy 1. Traffic is a crawl at rush hours and virtually a parking lot on the roads. You are better off going northwest from the airport (see map) on Country Hills blvd and join Hwy 1 further up. Any official at the Rental Car agency can help you with a detailed map suggesting this alternate route. Besides, this goes through the suburbs and up-scale neighborhoods of Calgary, so you can appreciate the country side as well!

Head Start...

Every destination has to have a start, and for us – our journey starts here at home. Minneapolis is the hub for Northwest Airlines, and they have convenient and direct flights to various cities in Canada. We choose to fly into Calgary, Alberta which was the closest and most ideally located airport to start our trip from.
TIP:Some tips for those of you reading this … invest in good books, and gather information about what you plan to see, do and experience. This plays to your advantage, when you are traveling in touristy zones!!! We consider ourselves more as travelers than as tourists.

Pack according to the time of year that you plan to travel. After a lot of research, traveling to the mountains in the summer time, seemed like a perfect choice, and we would highly recommend it to anyone interested. Of-course if you are into winter sports, and seek the thrill of the white powdery stuff…then your gear will differ greatly.

Also the Rockies offer innumerable opportunities to feed the adventurous spirit. Hiking, horseback riding, biking, mountain climbing, kayaking, white water rafting to name a select few! If you are into outdoor activities, pack a backpack to carry your gear with you at all times, it is your friend.

Monday, June 26, 2006

O! Canada! O! Canada!

This was a 10-Day trip of Western Canada, including the Canadian Rockies,National Parks in Alberta and British Columbia, Vancouver, Victoria and Seattle.
Each day's stay includes several highlights that are permanently etched in our minds and remind us everyday of this glorious and god-gifted place. More detailed pictures will be posted with each continue to read on!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

One step closer

Spring is a delightful time of year. And if it brings showers in its wake, then it is impossible to take your eyes off the lush lawns, the tender green leaves, the body and bounce of spring blossom flowers. People are out and about on their bikes, walking on trails, working on their yards, or just strolling to admire this magical transformation.
To me, the onset of spring meant, that embarking on our travel adventure was no longer a distant dream. I decided to write up a detailed itinerary for the first five days of our vacation as a step to move closer to realizing this dream.
Coming up with things to do, places to visit, the when, where, what and how…was not easy to say the least. But every little bit of time spent doing it felt like a rush of adrenalin.

What I have discovered (just from reading) is that any amount of time spent in the majestic Canadian Rockies wouldn’t and couldn’t do it complete justice. But not visiting it at all would be a far greater regret! And as the years go by, you tend not to regret what you did, but rather what you didn’t!

We stumbled upon the fact that our complete vacation could clearly be broken down into 2 sections – one, absorbing the spirit of nature, and two, becoming aware of the urban culture and civilization!! The first five days of our trip would be spent traversing along the continental divide through 4 major national parks including Canada’s largest and oldest. The remainder of our trip would be spent soaking in the culture of Canada’s One-nation people, discovering the urban lifestyle of cities like Vancouver and Seattle, and patronizing Victoria’s quaint British charm.

The change in seasons presented an exciting opportunity to put pen to paper and come up with great itineraries for the first five days. In the next couple months, I will be listing out experiences from each day’s itinerary in greater detail.

Over the next week, I hope to chart out the same for the 2nd half of the trip as well.

But until then, I am taking in every moment of nature’s re-birth, because its end,would mean our new beginning!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The buzz word is...ssshhhhh

Our trip to Canada is planned for end of June this year, and I will keep you posted as we get closer to it. Remember I am a planner and a trip like this will take a while to plan. However in the meantime...there is a short but never-the-less interesting side trip that is generating a buzz. We have very close friends living in Indianapolis, whom we haven't met in almost 3 years...and you can tell 3 years is a long time, because since then, he has worked with 3 different companies, she - has lost over 70 pounds in weight, and together they now have 2 very cute babies (needless to say, whom we haven't met), that is if you discount the half hour brief meeting in Hyderabad, India, when their flight had just arrived from the states and ours was about to take off guessed it for the states!! Oh by the way, did I mention that they live in Indianapolis and we - in Minneapolis, only 600 miles apart? True, and yet when we briefly saw each other, it was after we had traveled nearly 10000 miles around the globe! Definitely something to blog about.
What is interesting about this side trip is that She is in for a surprise! We have taken Him into confidence (lest this came more as a shock than a surprise)!
The question is...can He keep it as one? Stay tuned...