Touring the Pacific Northwest: part I

It’s been a little while since my last proper post, in fact we were in a different region in, a different country altogether. Right now, we’re in Eureka, California and tomorrow we’re heading down to San Francisco. But how did we get here all the way from Winnipeg?

Celebrating Canada 150 in Regina with a big sign

Our drive across the central prairie provinces of Canada took us to a handful of cities, our first stop after Winnipeg was Regina, Saskatchewan. It was a perfectly serviceable if not particularly exciting city. After that, we overnighted in Medicine Hat, a small town on the western edge of Alberta. We had Papa John’s pizza served by a former employee of P&O Ferries (I can’t remember where he lived in the UK, but he was curious about our trip). The next morning, we set off for Calgary, the largest city in Alberta.

Calgary was a pleasant surprise in a number of ways. A few of our Canadian friends had told us that Alberta was like the “Texas of Canada”, all cowboys pick-up trucks and smoke-filled saloons. This was not our experience of Calgary at all. We found a metropolitan, bohemian metropolis with a few achingly trendy neighbourhoods and a surprisingly (given Calgary’s status as Canada’s oil capital) pedestrian-friendly streetscape. We spent most of our time around 4th St and 17th Ave, home to dozens of great restaurants, and a charming bookshop called Shelf Life Books (1302 4th St SW).

The Danish-Canadian Club in Calgary really nailed the whole Danish pub aesthetic

We made an obligatory Scandi stop at the hyggelig Danish-Canadian Club (727 11th Ave SW) for lunch, where I got my gravad laks fix. It was an unexpected slice of Scandinavian comfort in the middle of a Canadian metropolis, and very much welcome at that point in the trip.

After a couple of days wining and dining in the city, it was time to drive up into the Canadian Rockies to our next stop: the resort town of Banff. The town’s setting is quite spectacular—Banff is loomed over by three or four major peaks—and the mountain air is crisp and clean.

Although the town itself is a bit touristy and gimmicky, it nonetheless has its charm. The Banff Springs Hotel (405 Spray Ave) is a grand edifice constructed by the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late 19th century, best observed from the aptly-named Banff Surprise Corner, which is on the other side of the riverbank.

Banff Springs Hotel in all its Andersonian glory

Having lived in Iceland, I also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit Banff Upper Hot Springs (Mountain Ave; adults $7.30, swimsuit rental $1.90), if only for a comparison to the genuine article. The spring itself was essentially a smaller version of any of the public swimming pools found in Iceland, although the rules around hygiene were more lax than I’m accustomed to. The changing room was quite dirty by Icelandic standards, and there were a lot of tourists on their phones(!) in the water, which kind of killed the tranquil atmosphere. The view from the pool over the town and surrounding valley was pretty amazing though.

The real reason we had come to Banff was to experience the Canadian Rockies. We decided to take a trip up towards Jasper National Park, which is a couple of hour’s spectacular drive north of Banff. The 93 highway turns into the Icefields Parkway, a truly stunning route that takes you past pristine lakes, snow-dusted mountain tops and eventually the Athabasca Glacier—the true highlight. A short walking path takes you right up to the edge of the glacier, which although receding, is still huge. Keep on driving 80km or so and you will end up at Athabasca Falls, a small group of waterfalls well worth a visit too.

Athabasca Glacier seen from a distance

One thing that struck us whilst travelling through this mostly unspoilt landscape was the sheer number of tourists. We arrived at the end of the season, in early October, yet there were still thousands of tourists in the town of Banff and dozen of coaches shuttling tour groups around. We were of course part of the problem, but we couldn’t help but think that the volume of tourists detracted somewhat from the experience.

From the drive back to Banff from the Icefields Parkway

That evening, we returned to Banff and had some excellent Greek food at the Balkan Restaurant (120 Banff Ave), before rolling into bed for a some well-earned rest for our drive to Kamloops, British Columbia the next morning.

To be continued…

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