Catching Up

We were actually away in Toronto all last week, and there’s so much to catch up on. We were there to visit family and also because Captain Jelly Belly went to his first sleepaway camp about an hour north of Toronto – he’s been to Scout camp for a weekend but this was four whole days of him taking care of himself. We wanted to be close by in case he had a food-allergy related emergency or broke an arm or something, so we stayed the week at my youngest sister’s house in Scarborough.

I thought I’d have more to say on the camp subject but actually, it was fine. I was a bit of a wreck beforehand, worried about what he was going to eat (although the camp was great – they have a full time nurse on staff, make all their own food in house, and had a whole separate station just for preparing his food and he was always served first). I also thought he was likely to not shower the whole time, possibly get lice, and definitely lose every single thing he brought because I forgot to label it all with his first and last name. But everything worked out well, he had a GREAT time and came home with a thousand you-had-to-be-there stories and email addresses of new friends. Plus, we had a very nice time with the two girls – it is AMAZING to me how much easier two kids is than three, now that we’re used to the trio. He learned and grew, and we learned and grew, and I’m sure Lifetime will be calling any moment to turn our story in to a Very Special After School Movie Of The Week.

Down in Toronto we took the girls to the new Ripley Aquarium (bananas busy and pretty pricey, but just monumentally gorgeous and eye-popping, so recommended), and to my favourite place in the world, Casa Loma (referred to as “Casa LAME-a” by my older daughter, but at least Little Miss Sunshine liked it, and they both enjoyed the subway ride to get there).

After we picked up the Captain we all spent a day at Canada’s Wonderland, which was heart-stoppingly expensive, to the point where we question if it was worth it, even though all three kids had an amazing time. No outside food is allowed so after having leftover pizza for breakfast, I ended up having fries and a coke for lunch, then mini donuts and a funnel cake for dinner. The next day I had a nice big salad for lunch and I could hear my arteries weeping with relief. Speaking of health, small tragedy: my FitBit got all messed up while we were away, so I missed out on steps for both Casa Loma day and Canada’s Wonderland day, which may have resulted in a weekly record. SNIFF.

Now we’re back and of course, the first thing I did was race to watch Dance Show. More on that in a moment but first, two important pieces of news:

First, I have a guest post up at OttawaStart – really just a reposting of my statues tour post. This was a big honour for me, because I love OttawaStart, and I often say that if you only read one blog in Ottawa, it should be this one. Glen Gower, who runs it, is a municipal treasure in my opinion, and OttawaStart is a great resource for what’s happening in the city – everything from road closures to local events to historical explorations of local sites to where to get a good lunch. Go now and subscribe!

Second – and I hope you are sitting down for this – DANCE SHOW IS COMING TO OTTAWA. Last week they announced a bunch of new dates and I didn’t even check because I was so depressed about the tour, and then I got an email from my friend Miker with this link in it that takes you directly to a place where you can get your very own tickets to see Jaja IN PERSON. It’s at the NAC this time, instead of the Canadian Tire Centre, which of course means the tickets are stupidly expensive (theme of the week!), but it’s cheaper than flying to New York to see the tour, which I was actually considering, so yeah, I’ll be there.

Speaking of Dance Show, who’s left in the top six?

Jaja. Putting her back at number one this week because a) everyone I talk to loves her as much as I do, and b) she was brilliant this week in her Broadway number with (SQUEE) Ricky. Plus, her solo KICKED IT. Is there nothing she cannot do? No, no there is not.

Gaby. First of all, I’m only putting Gaby this high because it seems they are going to narrow down the field to a single street and a single stage dancer for the final two, so someone from team stage has to be in the second slot here. Is Gaby the best on team stage? I personally think it’s Hailee, but with Hailee showing up in the bottom two this week, and Gaby being just gorgeous all over in her Mandy Moore number (Mandy Moore is THE QUEEN), plus rocking her solo…I think she’ll be the one to end up in the final two.

Virgil. Virgil is just cool. He is like, cool embodied. He’s got the moves, he’s got the personality, and he’s got the skills. In any other season I think he could win – actually, he could still win this one, too. We’ll see what happens this week.

Jim. I think Jim has a lot of personal support and OMG, did you see his solo? BEAUTIFUL. I thought the judges were too hard on him this week – I see what they were saying last week about his lack of personal connection, and how this week’s number with Comfort didn’t help him with that, but on the plus side I thought he kept up with her fairly well and showed some measure of groove. He’s not my favourite on team stage but I do think he deserves to be in the top 4.

Megz. Gal Smiley is going to be broken-hearted when Megz goes home but I’ll be really surprised if she lasts over Virgil or Jaja, who are a powerhouse duo who cannot be beat. I do think her time is up – I love her personality and smooth groove and I think she’s been shafted the past two weeks with bad styles, but her solo as well was fun but not nearly as dazzling as the other two.

Hailee. I’ll be broken-hearted when Hailee goes home but it seems to me that she just doesn’t have the voter support that Gaby and Jim do, plus her number this week with Fikshun was solid, but not as good as her very similar dance with Virgil a few weeks’ back.

Are you going to the live show? Who do you think will win?

Losing the Nouns

They say you lose the nouns first. That when you reach for the name of something, something innocent, like a whisk or nail clippers or a cantaloupe, and suddenly it isn’t there. No need to panic, you know it’s in there somewhere, but just for the moment, you had a little blank. Funny.

Maybe you’re watching a show with your husband and suddenly the name of the lead actor, someone you like and have known for years, is just gone, and you have to go through six degrees of the IMDB to find it – remember, he was in that thing with that girl with the red hair, and she was in that Batman movie with the joker, the one directed by that guy who did Inception. And when you read it, of course, it was right there all along, of course, of course.

“Go downstairs and get me that thingy,” I’ll say to the kids, and they’ll say, “What thingy?” and I’ll say, “You know, the thing with the black base and the buttons and the glass top part and you use it to make milkshakes,” and they’ll say, “The blender?” and I’ll say, “Yes, yes, the blender, of course I meant the blender.”

It’s been happening a lot lately. I’m only 45, still young, still lots of time to chase dreams and think about someday goals. But the words sometimes slip away, mostly in the evening when I’m tired, sometimes now happening in the late afternoon, too. A few months back I was at a store and something was on sale, but sold out, and I felt like an idiot telling the young salesgirl that I wanted, “You know, one of those coupon like things that you give when something is on sale, but you don’t have any left, and you can get one later?” and she was all, “A raincheck?” and I exclaimed, “Yes! A raincheck!” grateful she had put me out of my misery.

I sometimes feel a little panic – is this the start of something new? Early dementia? But a few of my friends have reported the same thing, the same slips. Just a little blank moment, how silly. Nothing to worry about, perfectly normal. So I’m very deliberately not worrying, not fretting, just carrying on carrying on.

Aging is a funny thing – you never think it will happen to you. But I feel it creeping around the edges, in my knees, in the fresh lines on my face, in the occasional hot flash. I’m not afraid to get old, just afraid there won’t be enough time to do it all, to see it all, to say it all. Especially before I lose the nouns for good.

Famous Writers

Quick, who is this guy:

It's Stephen King! Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It’s Stephen King! Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

And who is this lady:

It's J.K. Rowling! Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It’s J.K. Rowling! Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The other day MyFriendJen and I got talking about famous authors, and somehow it came up that we don’t really know what they look like. There are some books that I adore, that are BELOVED FRIENDS, and of course I know who wrote them, but I could sit next to those authors on a plane and have NO idea. It would be an absolute tragedy, for example, to be seated next to Nicole Krauss, or Jessica Grant, or Kate Racculia, and think nothing of them other than that I hope they are quiet, and that they don’t think they are getting the armrest, because it is mine. The lost opportunity for gushing would just be so sad, don’t you think?

And beyond the smaller authors to whom I am devoted, there’s bigger names too that I can’t put a face to. Jen said she could recognize Tom Clancy, but I swore I’d never seen a picture of him, and when she pulled one up on her phone, indeed, he was a total stranger. John Grisham? Danielle Steele? Dan Brown? Stephanie Meyer? Nope, no idea at all what they look like – how old they are, how fat or thin, any distinguishing features. I mean, I adored The Hunger Games to obsessive levels, but I could be waiting in line behind Suzanne Collins at the Superstore and think nothing more than I wonder what she plans on doing with all that orange juice.

So we started to brainstorm authors that maybe we WOULD recognize in public, other than the obvious two mega-stars pictured above, preferably living (although I have Kurt Vonnegut stone cold), and here’s what we came up with:

  • Margaret Atwood
  • George R. R. Martin
  • Robert Munsch
  • Douglas Coupland (me only)
  • Judy Blume (me only, and only because I’ve seen her Twitter profile pic)
  • Brandon Mull (Jen only, because she’s read 100 of his books to her kids)

It’s a very short list, isn’t it? I bet I could recognize many more screenwriters than authors of books. I mean, I don’t want to be a stalker or anything, but I feel like if there’s an author I really love, then I should at least have a vague idea of what they look like, just in case. I intend to read more “about the author” back flaps and maybe do a few internet searches on my favourites. You never know.

Related: guess if either Jen or I become famous authors, we don’t need to worry too much about bodyguards, electric fences, and being stalked by the paparazzi. That’s a relief.

Which authors would you recognize if you saw them in real life?

A Visit To The National Gallery

We hit the National Gallery last week, because they had not one, not two, but three special exhibits on that were must-see shows for me.

There was the Alex Coville retrospective, which was fantastic – lots of famous art, lots of things to learn, and best of all, snippets of great movies that had been inspired by his work (did you know that FOUR of his paintings appear in The Shining?).

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There’s a Marc Chagall exhibit, his drawings from the book Dauphnis and Chloe, and he’s my all time favourite artist, although there was a LOT of explaining to the kids why everyone was naked all the time, plus one of my kids asked loudly, “WHAT’S A HYMEN?” in the middle of the exhibit, so you know, maybe think twice about bringing the kids.

There’s also a small feature on Mary Pratt and her famous paintings of pots of jam, and I’m now an enormous fan of her lovely, bold, brilliant work.

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But the most interesting part about going to the art gallery is all the warnings. We are like, on the Most Wanted list at the Art Gallery, it would seem. I think we received a stiff warning from every single guard we encountered.

Too close to the art. TOO CLOSE TO THE ART. Lady, I’m going to have to ask you leave if I have to warn you one more time.

No running in the gallery. NO RUN! I will ask you to leave if there is running.

Only one person working with the interactive art at a time. I have told you this once already.

No pictures in here. Don’t touch the water in the fountain, it is part of the artwork. No backpacks allowed.

That last one is interesting to me, because no backpacks are allowed, but purses are allowed. I have seen ladies bring in purses that could easily conceal the Mona Lisa, and I have been there with my little leather “fashion” backpack, about 10 inches square, and been made to check it simply because of the way it is worn.

I prefer to bring a backpack with me when I go out with the kids for comfort – I always travel with a ton of allergy meds and other emergency supplies – and the gallery, to their credit, will give me an exception for my backpack for medical reasons. But here is the weird thing: even though they give me a backpack exception, I am not allowed to carry it on my back. One-strapping is fine, or I can wear it on my front. I am allowed to carry it in my hand. But two-strapping, in traditional backpack style? No.

I got called out on this like, five times by the security guards. You must wear your backpack with one strap. It says so right on your security tag. I wasn’t trying to break the rule, it was just habit – every time I took it off I slipped it back on two-strapped, then got warned about 30 seconds later by a guard. Each time, I apologized and immediately corrected the situation.

But now I wonder…why? Not that I’m looking to create a problem here, it’s a simple enough rule to follow, but I just don’t get it. Why can I have my backpack, but not wear it like a backpack? Is it that I’m more likely to bump into something? Is it some sort of security risk? Is it that the gallery staff think backpacks are ugly, and they offend any sane person’s artistic sensibility?

It’s a mystery.

Dance Show Top 8

I can’t believe I blogged about Dance! Show! last week and totally forgot to mention Sir Monkeypants’ brilliant idea. Dance Show is on at exactly the same time as American Ninja Warrior – our two summertime favourites – and I was flicking back and forth between the two a few weeks ago (we PVR both, don’t worry, we don’t miss a second of either). Sir Monkeypants got the idea to combine them – imagine Nigel and Akbar Gbajabiamila commentating as athletes did a combination of monkey bars and small dance routines. Hilarious, and yet also: GENIUS. I actually think there’s a lot of crossover, athletically speaking. Plus I would LOVE to see Akbar give Nigel a “friendly” punch in the arm when someone totally nails that piroutte-jete-salmon-ladder combo. SWEET.

I realized this week that I have been watching all along with the idea in my head that I’ll be able to get a much better look at some of these routines and dancers during the live tour, and then I just went and checked this morning the tour is not coming ANYWHERE in Canada, let alone Ottawa. The closest I could get is Brooklyn, and even I cannot travel to Brooklyn just for Dance Show, although the chance to see Jaja in person is tempting. However, I’m afraid I am going to have to live with TV-only viewing, which is sad.

So this was our first look at the top 10 with the new stage/street format, which was good in some ways (so much hip hop! fantastic solos!) and bad in others (no more group routines, plus a couple of people who got the opposite style, like Megz, kind of got screwed). I was happy enough with the going-homers – JJ was my pick for street and with her injury, seemed like it was her time. I would have kept Edson over Derek any day, but either was really expendable.

So who’s left and being awesome in the top 8?

Virgil. Loved his number with Comfort this week – Christopher Scott is so fantastic. Virgil is just so groovy and Comfort was a perfect match for him. Plus, his solo was cool and he continues to charm. Could he win it all? Possibly.

Hailee. Also loved her Broadway routine this week – she brought the dazzle. With so few dancers remaining I feel like she is really beginning to stand out from the pack. I just hope that since she was first up this week, the voters remember how great she was when it comes time to dial in.

Jaja. Her rep was certainly damaged by the kiss-of-death Bollywood this week – RETIRE IT ALREADY, DANCE SHOW. However, giving her Bollywood usually means she’s at the top of the voting board – they tend to give Bollywood to someone with an ironclad voting block, so they can withstand the horror. Plus, I’ve seen worse – MUCH worse – when it comes to this style; at least she managed to keep up and keep it cute.

Jim. Jim is great, but I don’t know, sometimes I just feel a little removed from him onstage. Having Alex around this week – even though he was stuck in Bollywood hell – made me realize that Jim is no Alex in terms of personality and charm. I plan to re-watch Jim’s performance this week because I feel like I should have gotten more out of it than I did. He’s still, I think, the stage team number two though.

Neptune. Loved him this week. It’s funny, I never really cared for Jasmine when she was actually on the show, but as an all-star she has really shone. I thought she and Neptune were the perfect match – amazing chemistry and physically they just seem to go together. I’d say this was Neptune at his best and he deserves to be around another week – in fact, he’s probably good enough to win it all, and it’s too bad he has Virgil and Jaja to fight against for Street Top 2.

Gaby. Once again this week, the judges (and Cat!) were all, “OMG WE LOVE YOU,” and again, I do not see it. Her number with Joshua (JOSHUA! SQUEE!) was good but I mostly watched him, and he was GREAT, while Gaby was just kind of…there. I’m going to rewatch this one too to try to figure out what I missed – maybe it’ll have more magic the second time around. Wanted to mention here, though, that I ADORED her solo – my favourite! – and so that alone is enough to keep her around for another week in my books.

Megz. Oh Megz, I love you and want you to move next door so you can come over on Saturdays for drinks and a movie with me and Paula. Bring your shoes. But this week showed her weaknesses – her jazz number was okay but she was outdanced by Marco for sure. She just didn’t have the technique to be super clean and her adorable personality wasn’t enough. She was hit with a double whammy – not her style, and the dreadful Ray Leeper – but still, I don’t think she will be able to make it another week, sadly.

Derek. He’s still here. Can’t explain it. Once again this week, I watched his partner (Kayla! Squee!) almost exclusively. America: sometimes you are an odd and unpredictable beast. Hopefully it’ll sort itself out next week.

Kay, off to do some rewatching. In the meantime: brainstorm ninja/dance fusion titles. American Ninja Dance Show? So You Think You Can Ninja? American Dancer Warrior? Discuss.

Last Day on the Icefields Parkway

On our last day of our Alberta trip, we drove back down the Icefields Parkway to Calgary, where we were flying home the next morning. We had all day to explore the Parkway so we scheduled a few stops along the way, and also pulled over at several of viewing spots set up along the highway.

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Our first major stop was at the Athabasca Falls. The falls are so stunning that it’s impossible to take a bad shot of them (we were also helped by the fabulous weather). In fact, of these pics below, can you tell which of these were taken by my eight year old daughter, using her “camera” that is little more than a $50 toy?

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(Answer: the first and third are kid shots.)

There’s a dry riverbed here, where the Athabasca River used to run but doesn’t anymore, which means you can walk right through the old canyon. The dry canyon comes out at the river below the falls, which has a distinctive milky look to it from (of course) glacial rock flour. The canyon was pretty much the only place on the whole trip where we saw a few mosquitoes – I’d brought bug spray everywhere but didn’t use it once. Not sure if that is typical of the area, or we just got lucky, but I was pretty happy about it.

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Back in the car, we stopped at a few places (like the Saskatchewan River crossing, where there is a rest stop where you can get a burger for $14.95 – pack a lunch on Icefields Parkway day!).

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Eventually we ended up at Bow Summit. Bow Summit is the highest public road in Canada – it’s a little side road to the parkway that takes you up to the top, where there’s a lovely view of Peyto Lake and its glacier.

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Then it was, sadly, time to say goodbye to the mountains and head home. The next morning when we got up for our flight, it was pouring in Calgary – and later they had flooding and handfulls of hail. So we like to say Alberta was just as upset to see us go as we were to leave. We’ll be back soon, Alberta – kay?

Taking the Train

One of the things I was interested in doing in Jasper was driving out to see Mount Robson, which is the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies at 3954 metres (12 972 feet). It’s about a one hour drive west from Jasper and to get there you actually have to cross the border into B.C., and also cross over the continental divide.

While I was poking around for a Maligne Canyon tour I found this train tour run by SunDog. You take a VIA train from the little station in Jasper, out through the rockies to a small town in B.C. called Dunster. Then a bus picks you up and takes you back to town, stopping at Mount Robson along the way. Train ride through the rockies? Yes please!

The train didn’t leave until midday so we had a chance to check out Jasper, which is cute, and small, and not quite as quaint as Banff (but nowhere near as busy, either). There’s mountains all around, but more space to the town too. We had fun at the Old Fire Hall which has been turned into a Parks Canada information centre, where they do skits and have games and crafts about wildlife and plants in the park. It’s worth stopping by if you have kids.

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Once we were ready for the train we hopped aboard. The train had an engine, two coach cars, and a dining car with a bubble roof for looking out. It was pretty awesome.

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Along the way we got good views of the Frasier River and Moose Lake, and we could see Mount Robson in the distance, too. The train slowed for pictures at major spots and even managed to slow down so we could all get a glimpse of a black bear crossing the tracks (didn’t quite capture it on film, though).

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Once we arrived in Dunster and its World’s Smallest Train Station we headed back by road to Jasper. Our tour guide, Bert, was also a Jasper native and had great stories to tell on the road home about recreation in the area, and local plant and animal life.

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Our first stop was at Rearguard Falls, on the Frasier River – this is the last stop for chinook salmon coming upriver to spawn. We were a little early to see actual salmon – they usually show up in mid to late August – but the falls were still amazing.

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Then we stopped at Mount Robson. You can’t actually get close to it without a 5 km hike, so we just took some shots from the visitor centre. We were quite lucky in that only about 10% of the peak was hidden by clouds – a relatively clear day for Mount Robson, which is often completely obscured. Apparently it’s only completely clear for about 10 days a year, and when it is clear, it’s such a big deal that it makes the local news.

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Also on the drive home, we saw a beaver dam and talked about how beaver activity affects the area; crossed the continental divide, where water flows east, west, or north within a few metres of each other; learned about fireweed, the provincial flower of the Yukon; and stopped to check out some elk that were snacking along the side of the road.

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Yeah, Jasper is pretty awesome.

Maligne Canyon and Maligne Lake

For our first day in Jasper, we wanted to drive out to see Maligne Canyon and Maligne Lake. “Maligne” is the French word for “evil” or “wicked,” so named because the river tossed a French priest from his horse many years ago. It’s pronounced in the French way – “Ma-LEEN” instead of “Ma-LINE.”

I actually booked a guided tour for this part, with the Jasper Tour Company. It’s basically a one-man show – Joe Urie, who is a Jasper local, has a 15 passenger van and takes small groups out on various driving tours. I can’t say enough good things about Joe – he was so personable and had great stories and really made the whole area come alive for us. He knew where to best spot all the wildlife, and he knew the history of the area (for example, unusually high water from three years ago had had lasting effects in places), and best of all, as a Jasper local, he had lots of insider info on what it’s like to live in a National Park and the politics of preservation. Fascinating.

Joe picked us up at our hotel and first drove us out to Maligne Canyon, which is a canyon of soft rock that has been carved out by (of course!) running glacier water. It was GORGEOUS. Joe new lots about the history of the area, and was able to show us video of what it is like in winter; he also knew exactly where to spot fossils that were embedded in the rocks along the path.

I could have spent all day there, seriously.

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Next we drove out past Medicine Lake. This is a lake that is glacier fed – but the porous bedrock underneath the lake means that in the springtime, the lake is full of water, but by fall, the water has magically drained away (and feeds into the canyon, some 20 km away).

Here we learned that we were quite lucky in that a major forest fire had surrounded the lake just a couple of weeks before our arrival, and in fact the road to the lake had only been reopened for a week. It gave Joe a chance to give us a fascinating talk about how fire renews the forest and is actually required in nature (this one in particular was naturally started with lightning). The burn marks along the forest, running along the side of the lake, were amazing – ugly but beautiful too. The coolest part was seeing how the fire had burned some trees, but not others, leaving pockets of green behind for no apparent reason. Nature at work – incredible.

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From there we drove on to Maligne Lake, which is another lake surrounded by mountains but seriously, is so, so beautiful. Maligne Lake is famous for a very small island about halfway down its 14 km length, called Spirit Island (actually more like Spirit Peninsula, as low water levels meant it was actually connected to the mainland while we were there, something that happens often). Spirit Island is famous because a photo of it won a Kodak Kodachrome photography contest back in the 30s, and as a result was blown up to billboard size and hung in Grand Central Station in New York City. That started a sudden flood of New Yorkers coming to Jasper in search of the mysterious Spirit Island.

We hopped on a boat tour (the only place motorized boats are allowed in the region) and cruised out to see the famous island, and the views were dazzling. Seriously dazzling. Right when we arrived at Spirit Island, there was a deer casually grazing on the peninsula – perfection.

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Even though this is a popular tourist destination, it was very quiet on the lake – lots of people in canoes, lots of quiet campers on the edges, only one or two motorboats out at any given time – and so it felt very peaceful and calming. It’s a definite must do, even if you’re not normally a touristy kind of person. This is the kind of place that makes you think about moving to Alberta.

Glacier Adventure

Day eight! Time to drive up to Jasper on the famed Icefields Parkway – one of the most scenic drives in the world. It’s just beautiful – pictures cannot do it justice. I was snapping away in car the whole way. You can basically take an amazing shot just by randomly pointing your camera out the window and clicking, but no matter how gorgeous the photo it’s still not as incredible as being there.

There are dozens of spots to stop along the drive, for lookouts or hikes or to see fascinating features like waterfalls. But for our drive up we only had one stop in mind – the Glacier Adventure, which allows you to actually walk on the Athabasca Glacier.

So we drove out for a bit:

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And then we stopped at the Glacier Adventure centre, which is about two and a half hours up from Banff. We had pre-bought our tickets online, because the tickets are for a specific time and we didn’t want to get there only to find we’d have to wait around for another three hours to actually go out. It was very busy there but they were sending out tours every 15 minutes and so I don’t think we actually would have had to wait for very long, but whatever.

We got on a shuttle bus that took us out to the ice bus, the massive vehicle that actually goes out onto the ice. Then we headed over to the glacier itself for our designated 20 minute walkabout. It was short, but it was enough – my feet both got soaked (it was a very hot day, so there was a lot of meltwater on top) and it was windy and chilly (we had jackets and gloves, and used both).

The ancient ice has a the same blue-turquoise colour of the glacier fed lakes and it was just so beautiful. The best part was when my brother in law scooped up a bit of meltwater in his water bottle for us all to try – impossibly cool and clear and delicious. Verdict: must do.

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Side note: visiting the glacier definitely does make you think about preserving nature, and what is and isn’t good for the environment. Most of the Banff and Jasper national parks are fiercely protected by law – you literally can’t touch anything or take anything without penalty. So to have thousands of people walking out on this glacier that is rather quickly melting away felt a little out of place. The company that runs the glacier tours was grandfathered in – they were running these tours before the area was a national park – and that’s why they can do it. Also, I do want to mention that the glacier is melting as part of a natural warming cycle to the Earth, and not because of people walking on it. But it still felt like we were almost trespassing, and I know the Jasper locals do not have a good opinion of Brewster, the company that runs the Glacier Adventure. Food for thought, in any case.

After the glacier walk we also went out on the Glacier Skywalk – a clear glass floor thing that goes out over a canyon for a view. We went because a) the kids really wanted to, what IS their thing with glass floors?, and b) we figured, we’re here, we’ll never be again, let’s do it all. But really, the skywalk is quite skippable – the view is nothing different than is available for free at several other points (the skywalk is like, $30 adults) and of course, I had another panic over the glass floor. I’m sure, given the same scenario, we would do it again – the kids did like it, we saw more bighorn sheep there and also a mountain goat, and we always would have wondered about it if we had skipped it. But definitely: skippable.

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Next up: on to Jasper!

Banff Hot Springs and Lake Minnewanka

I had originally planned to do Lake Louise and Moraine Lake on two days, but it was such a long drive from our hotel (about an hour and a half) that we combined them into one day, which actually turned out to be plenty. That left us with an extra day to explore the Banff area, which turned out to be great.

First we went to the Hot Springs. It’s basically a giant hot tub fed by water heated from its pass under Sulphur Mountain. The girls were really afraid it would be stinky like the Cave and Basin but you actually could hardly smell the sulphur. It was absolutely delightful – this was, I think, my most favourite thing on the whole trip. So, so deliciously warm, with the mountains all around you – bliss.

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Tip for the hot springs, in case you are ever there: bring some moisturizer. Afterwards we felt rather shriveled and ended up buying a $21 tub of moisturizer at the Body Shop on Banff Avenue in desperation. I should also note that we made it a point to get up and get to the hot springs first thing in the morning – it opens at 9 a.m. – and as a result the pool was quite empty (about 30 people in it, when the max is over 200). Definitely more pleasant.

After that we decided to drive the Lake Minnewanka Loop, which is a driving trail with several small hiking trails branching off of it. You can also go for a boat tour or a canoe on the lake itself. Our major goal was to see Bighorn Sheep – Gal Smiley loves sheep and we’d heard that a sighting was practically guaranteed on Lake Minnewanka.

First we did a little hike, up the Upper Bankhead Trail, to see an old abandoned coal mine. The mine was cool, the view was stunning, there were literally lumps of coal just sitting around for you to pick up, and I almost had a second heart attack on the climb up. Fun!

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See that black stuff at the bottom of the lake view photo above? That’s literally just coal, sitting there. The Captain wanted to fill his pockets and make his first million but we convinced him to leave it where it was.

Then we drove on to the lake, and as advertised there was a herd of sheep right along the road. We pulled over and had an amazing close encounter where the sheep walked right in front of us before leaping up the mountainside with amazing grace and agility. We hung around and skipped some stones in Lake Minnewanka for a bit before heading home.

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Verdict: I wanted to basically live at the hot springs, so yeah, definitely worth it. If you only had two days in Banff, I think you could squeeze in a hot springs somewhere and skip Lake Minnewanka, but it was worth it for us for the sheep factor.