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August is a perfect month for weekend getaways, and since it’s that month of the year again – let me take you along on this trip that happened on one very warm, sunny, and beautiful weekend in August of last year (2015).
Weekend Destination: Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Alberta is one of the ten provinces in Canada, located on the Western side. Two of Alberta’s biggest cities are Edmonton – its capital, and Calgary, which has the largest population of the two. These cities are not the typical weekend getaway places unfortunately, compared to the other major Canadian locations, such as: Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa, or even the magical Niagara Falls.
I chose Calgary as my base location, since it’s the closest city to a number of unbelievably beautiful lakes – Louis and Moraine among its most famous, and an international airport.
Arriving to Calgary. Umm, Never Again?
I took a direct flight from New York to Calgary on a Friday, leaving at about 5pm, and arriving around 10pm local time. The flight itself was quite long – around 5 hours, and I spent my time reading a book called “No Reservations” by the amazing Anthony Bourdain, to make it pass quicker.
Once we landed I proceeded to the Canadian passport control, and when my turn came a security officer started throwing a number of suspicious questions at me.
“Vacation, I’m here to see your beautiful and famous Lake Louis”.
“For how long are you staying?”
“Just two days, the weekend.”
“Are you here with a travel group?”
“Are you traveling alone??”
“Okay”, he said as he extended his hand in a patronizing gesture. “You see that office over there? Go there”, and with that he handed me back my passport.
I went to the office that the officer pointed to, and once I walked in I saw several miserable looking, red faced people, almost bowing down to a number of immigration officials, all with very arrogant vibes. One waiting couple had a tiny baby on their hands. It was around 11pm in the night at that point.
I stood first in line for about 10 minutes, when one of the immigration officials finished speaking with a very scared young girl and she hurriedly left the office. After few long minutes, it seemed that the official did not pay any attention to the line forming in the room. After another 10 minutes, I turned to the guy behind me and asked him if he was ever in a situation like this before. He said yes, he encountered this once in the past, when his passport… expired.
To which I replied, “Wow. Well, I’m an American citizen and I have never been in a situation like this…”
Immediately after my statement I heard: “NEXT!”, coming from a very angry-looking, middle-aged immigration official that has finished earlier. I went to him and managed a quick: “Good evening”, before he startled me with very loud screaming that went like this:
“I DON’T CARE THAT YOU ARE AN AMERICAN CITIZEN. THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO CAN ENTER THIS COUNTRY ARE CANADIAN CITIZENS. YOU HEAR ME?! CANADIAN CITIZENS!!”
He continued to yell uncontrollably for another several minutes. After I regained my composure from initial shock, I asked him if he wants me to go back right this moment. I told him that I had no problem with that.
“Is this how you treat tourists?”, after this last question he finally shut up.
He continued to check my documents, my hotel and tour reservations, and after finding nothing criminal in my records he handed me back my passport.
“Can I go now?”
“Yes”, answered the officer, with a murderous look on his face.
And so I left.
I arrived to my hotel after midnight, furious as one can imagine. I unpacked my bag, took a shower and went straight to bed. It would be a lie to tell you that this episode did not put me in a very bad mood for almost the entire weekend.
Day 1: Saturday. These Lakes Are Out Of This World!
The tour company that I booked for Saturday picked me up around 6am in the morning, it was still dark when I boarded the bus.
The first stop on this 14-hour tour was next to the beautiful and unspoiled nature around the magnificent Johnson Creek. We were given an opportunity to get out of the bus and take a stroll along the trail that led inside the woods.
I grabbed my light rain jacket since it was quite chilly inside the Creek and went up as far as I could. The nature inside the park is wild, raw and crisp, and provides a perfect opportunity to clean one’s mind from any negative feelings.
Next, we drove to the grand Fairmont Chateau located on the breathtaking Lake Louise. Since this was also our lunch stop, we had almost two hours to ourselves in this magical fairyland.
There are tons of activities that one can do around this area – such as hike the surrounding mountains (there are trails), kayak on the lake, stay in the luxurious Fairmont Chateau (if you can afford to), or even go for a picnic to enjoy the view.
Lake Louis always stays in freezing temperatures, therefore swimming is out of the question. Unless you brought your cold-resistant scuba dive costume. And even in that case you might be banned by the local security patrol. They can be quite unpleasant, as I can imagine.
At this point, if you have never been (or even seen) Lake Louis before, you are probably wondering how does this lake manage to look so turquoise-liciously good. There’s no photoshop or color enhancement in those photos, I assure you. Apparently, the secret is in silt (or rock flour). The movement of the glacier ice and the bedrock creates the silt that falls down into the lake, and due to it’s weight gets trapped in the water – amazing, isn’t it?
After our stop at the outrageously beautiful Lake Louis, we drove to another breathtaking gem of the Canadian Rockies – Moraine Lake.
Interestingly enough, Moraine Lake has a different shade of blue than that of Lake Louis. It’s a more deeper and darker shade of blue, while the neon color effect is also created by the glaciers surrounding the water.
You can hike (or kayak) around the area for even more spectacular views – if you have time, that is.
Later we drove to our final ‘rest’ stop of the day located at the Yoho National Park. In case you are wondering why did we only make 4 stops on a 14-hours long tour, the answer lies in the distance between each destination, which ranged from 40 minutes to 2 hours.
Just like the first stop, the Yoho National Park offers incredible views and an opportunity to walk through the woods. One of the most famous attractions inside the park is the Takkakaw Falls, which springs high from the top of a mountain (pictured on the right-hand side below).
After we finished the tour, we were dropped off at Banff (a small town in Alberta) around 6pm in the evening, to wait for a connecting bus that would take us back to Calgary. Since we had some time to kill at this location, I decided to walk around and explore this city a bit. And, it did not disappoint.
With a total population of less than 10,000 – this picturesque town has a number of cool things to offer anyone looking for a place to rest. It might also be wise to make this city your base location from where you can easily drive and explore other sites, including all those described above. Check out this fun website for more information on Banff.
Day 2: Sunday. Welcome to Mars.
I woke up rested, since I got more hours of sleep on this day. The tour started around 8am and I had time to enjoy a decent hotel breakfast before heading out to the pickup location. Today’s tour was much shorter in length, only 8 hours, after which I was to go to the airport for a red-eye flight back to New York.
We headed to the Drumheller region, which is famous for the large amount of the dinosaur fossils that were discovered in the area. In fact, the main town, which was named Drumheller as well, is sometimes referred to as the Dinosaur Capital of the World, that says something, isn’t it?
Our first stop included the grandiose Horseshoe Canyon, which is one of the most popular attractions in the Drumheller area. The Canyon is not very deep, but quite interesting and entertaining, since one can actually go down the trails in between the rocks. Unfortunately, if you have been to the Grand Canyon in the United States you might not be too impressed, but it’s still a very fun and nice place.
After a quick photo stop at the Horseshoe Canyon, we then headed to the incredible Royal Tyrell Museum, which is the number one… dinosaur museum in the World. It goes without saying that it’s a truly awesome place to bring your kids to, but trust me – even us, adults, will find it amusing. I was skeptical at first, but once I started exploring these rooms filled with the awe-inspiring fossils, it was impossible to stay bored.
Located just outside the Royal Tyrell Museum is another magnificent place. The area pictured below looks like it belongs to Mars, or some other alien planet, but the coolest fact is – you can walk down and around it, just like you can in the Horseshoe Canyon.
If you get lucky with the weather, you will feel like you are in some magical dessert, surrounded by a million year old, completely untouched, and newly rediscovered terrain. And if you’ve got an even bigger imagination, you can picture that you’ve just arrived on the set of a Hollywood sci-fi movie. So what are you waiting for? Jump right in!
After lunch at the Royal Tyrell Museum, we then headed to our third and final stop. This one was rather short and included only one attraction – the Rosedale’s Star Mine Suspension Bridge. Built in 1931, this hanging bridge crosses over the Red Deer River, and was initially designed to be used by the coal miners. Luckily, we had the chance to cross this bridge and to enjoy the spectacular views on both sides.
We arrived back to Calgary around 5pm in the afternoon, and I took the time to stroll back to my hotel without any rush.
Calgary is a large, beautiful, clean, and a modern city that has a number of things to offer a curious visitor, as well. Among them is the Calgary Tower, standing 191 meters high, it offers some nice 360 degrees panoramic views over the city. Besides the touristy landmarks, the city also has a great nightlife and a good food scene, with its many restaurants and bars.
Around 8pm I took a local bus back to the airport, which arrived there about an hour later. My flight was around 11pm, and I boarded it without any issues. I was glad to be going home, but at the same time I was also feeling happy and lucky to have been able to visit such an amazing part of the World. I sure hope to come back one day to explore more of that beautiful and wild nature, gorgeous lakes, waterfalls, and parks.
Alberta is a perfect destination for road-trips, camping, hiking and even skiing in the Winter time. Just make sure to grab your warmest clothes – it’s in Canada after all!
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