|Travelogue: Millenium Celebration in Lake Louise, Canada||
My husband Mark and I decided to spend our millennium vacation in Canada. We wanted to go somewhere wintry, as opposed to tropical, and Canada is usually a good deal because of the exchange rate. I had heard that Lake Louise was quite beautiful and so we decided to try it.
Monday, December 27, 1999
We leave today on the 7:30am Horizon flight out of Sea-Tac (the Seattle airport). Mark has arranged for a limo to pick us up since the parking garages are more than likely full for the holiday. Our car arrives early and we make great time to the airport only to find that our flight has been cancelled. Of course the airport is a zoo! When we get to the ticket counter, we find that we have already been rebooked on the 11 am flight. The ticket agent takes pity on us and gives us first row seats. We are disappointed but are feeling like the day is salvageable. We get a Starbucks and muffin and read the paper.
But as 11am approaches, it becomes apparent that things wonít be that simple. The weather in Seattle is what is causing the delays, and 11 am comes and goes without word on when our flight will be leaving. Calgary is sunny and in the 50ís, but Seattle is fogged in and planes canít land. Around noon we wonder what to do for lunch. Itís times like this when you realize that Sea-Tac could use some more restaurants! At 3PM we are able to board the Fokker F28 and take off at 3:30. This means we will arrive in Calgary at nightfall. We have just passed the shortest day of the year, December 22, and Calgary is further north than Seattle. We know that the drive to Lake Louise is over 2 hours and I am unhappy that we will be doing it in the dark.
After all that, the flight is uneventful and Calgaryís weather is beautifulóbetter than Seattleís. We get our rental car and head out. After about an hourís drive, we enter the park. We are surprised that we have to pay an entrance fee based on the length of our stay. We pay about US$35 and get a ticket to display on our dashboard. Soon after we stop at Banff to eat. There are dozens of restaurants to choose from, but by now it is 7:30 and most places are packed. We find a Japanese restaurant that can seat us and we relax for the first time all day. Only one more hourís drive and we will be at our final destination, Lake Louise.
When we arrive at the hotel around 10pm, it seems like no one is around. There is no one to park the car or help us with our bags. We go the reception desk to check in and the desk clerk finds the bellman. We are tired and go straight to our room. The hotel doesnít impress meóitís nice but not anything special. Even though we have the deluxe lake view room, it is small and the décor is tired. The bathroom is tiny. I feel myself growing more and more disappointed, but after such a long day I try to reserve judgment. We decide to hit the lounge to get a drink and unwind. We arrive just in time for last callówhich is 11pm.
Tuesday, December 28, 1999
The view from our room is truly magnificent, and I now think I understand why everyone raves about this place. It is more about the setting than the hotel itself. Even though it is only 7am, and not that light out, the lake is full of people skating, skiing and walking. I am feeling a bit better, and we head down to breakfast, which is included in the price of our room, to begin our holiday in earnest.
After our breakfast we decide to pick up our New Yearís tickets and find out what we want to do during our stay. We head to the concierge to sign up for some activities. We wanted to just take it easy today, but unfortunately things are pretty booked, but we manage to get a cross-country ski lesson for that afternoon. We also sign up for the Johnston Canyon Walk, and dog sleddingówe just saw a show on PBS on the Iditerod and want to try it out.
The Chateau has a Deli, which is open 24 hours and serves beverages, sandwiches, as well as some hot dishes, and desserts. We go there for lunch since we donít want anything heavy before skiing. Itís great! We end up using it a lot during our stay.
Cross-country skiing is available right at the Chateau, whereas downhill skiing is about 20 minutes away. I love the convenience of being able to just walk outside and ski. Since we havenít skied since last year, we decide to head out at 2:30, an hour before our lesson, early to get warmed upóno small feat in a place where temperatures are often in the negative double digits. By 3:30 the sun is already going down and the temperature is dropping. We have to keep moving to stay warm. Our ski instructor, Dave, is a nice guy and we are only ones taking the lesson so we get lots of individual instruction. We review the basics and learn some new techniques. After our lesson we are feeling greatówhat we needed was some fresh air and exercise, so Mark and I are both glad that we were forced into taking the lesson. Dave recommends that we try the Fairview Loop tomorrow, he says it will take us about 2 hours, which is just the right amount of time for us. We head back to the Chateau Deli for some hot chocolate.
With nothing to do before dinner, we head to the pool area where I sit in the steam room for a while and Mark enjoys the hot tub. Then itís time to get ready for dinner. I made reservations in advance for New Yearís and each eveningís dinner because I was warned that the things would be booked. I made reservations at the Edelweiss Room every night because it is supposed to be the hotelís top restaurant. We donít really plan to eat there every night but have reservations for "just in case."
The food and service at the Edelweiss Room are impeccable, but the live music is bad, annoying in fact, and may be reason enough not to eat there again. But there are so many interesting entrees on the menu that we plan to return the next night.
Wednesday, December 29, 1999
After a late breakfast we set out on the Fairview Loop. After our experience yesterday, we plan to do our skiing in midday when the sun is high and the temperature is relatively warm. The Fairview Loop proves to be a bit challenging for us. There are a lot of uphill grades, which wear us out. The altitude change (Lake Louise is about 5,000 ft above sea level) and the fact that we havenít skied in 8 months are humbling, but we make it. We decide to ski on the lake tomorrowóitís completely flat!
We spend another afternoon at the pool and have dinner reservations at the Edelweiss Room. Once again the food and service are great, but the music is just too much. Tomorrow we will try one of the other restaurants, The Victoria Dining Room, which is where we will celebrate New Yearís.
Thursday, December 30, 1999
Today we join a park guide for a hike in Johnston Canyon; we meet at 8:15 am in the lobby. Our guide, Bruce is the quintessential Canadian outdoorsman. Rugged, with a strong jaw and cleft chin, he looks like Dudley Do Right. After a half hour ride heading toward Banff, we arrive at Johnston Canyon. Bruce has brought along a bunch of gear for everyone on the hike ó poles and cleats that slip over your shoes. Boy, did we need them! Parts of the walk are on hard, packed snow, and ice, and so we had a much better time than had we gone out alone, unprepared. He also is able to give us information about the area that really enhances our experience.
We took a trail that follows along the canyon sidesósome sections are even suspended "catwalks"óand brings you first to the lower falls and then continues on to the upper falls, both of which are frozen at this time of year. When we get to the upper falls Bruce serves everyone hot chocolate from a thermos. What a fun morning!
We get back to the Chateau for lunch and then head out for our skiing, this time on the lake. Itís pretty amazing that virtually the whole lake is frozen solid enough to be able to ski across, although there are some "flooded" areas at the edges that give me the creeps. But most everyone is undaunted. We set out at the Chateau end and ski the long way across the lake. This is much more fun than the cross-country trail yesterday. It is totally flat so we can concentrate on our technique and really cover some distance, which is rewarding.
Tonight we dine at the Victoria Dining Room, the hotelís largest dining room and the most impressive architecturally. In fact the only two fireplaces in the hotel are in this dining room. It seems that the hotel has burned down twice so they arenít big on fireplaces. I must admit that in this climate I miss having a fireplace in the lobby area, where you can sit down with a book. Anyway, the food here proves to be just as good as in the Edelweiss Room, although the service is not as polished. The music however is MUCH better and we end up running into two couples that did the canyon walk with us. We feel like we are beginning to know people which is kind of fun.
Friday, December 31, 1999
Well, tonightís the big nightóbut thatís not allótoday we are also going dog sledding. We sleep in a bit and decide to take a day off from skiing. Instead we take a long walk on the lake. After lunch we go to the dog sledding area. We have signed up for a half hour trip with Kingmik Expeditions, they offer dog sled tours in Alberta and British Columbia (403-522-3525). There must be 40 dogs all barking fiercely because they know when the sleds are going out and want to get picked. Once our dog team has been harnessed, we get in the sled and are off for our journey. The dogs know the way, although our guide does give some verbal commands. Itís amazing to think that people travel thousands of miles this way; we decide that a half hour was about enough for us!
We relax the rest of the day, and take a nap before dinner. The festivities start at 7pm and go past midnight. We have an 8:30 dinner seating, and decide to head down around 8pm for the cocktail reception. The entire Chateau is now for guests only and every public space is a party venue. We head to dinner and get the same table that we had the night before, which turns out to be in a good location. The menu is wonderful, and the mid-dinner sorbet is served in a miniature ice sculpture. I opt for a vegetarian entrée instead of the beef and venison, but it turns out to be a mistake. It is vegetables in a puff pastry, but not very good. This is my only complaint for the evening.
There are big screens all over the hotel showing various New Yearís celebrations on TV, as well as what is going on in the hotelís other party rooms. There is a rock band in the lobby and we can see our park guide, Bruce cutting up the floor in full "guide" attire, including the trademark Mountieís hat. Itís priceless; I wish I had a picture!
Back in the Victoria Dining Room the band is great, and there are a lot of people dancing. The attire was "black tie recommended" and I wondered how many would actually be dressed formal, but seems like most people are. We are sitting next to our canyon walk friends that are from Edmonton and England. The crowd is mostly Canadian and American, but there are several Brits and some Europeans. As midnight approaches we gather at the windows. Fireworks are plannedóonly the second time in the history of the Chateau. Around 11:30 we learn that there is some trouble with fireworks due to the low temperatures, but at a few minutes past midnight they start. Then we head down to the lobby for dancing.
Saturday, January 1, 2000
Despite having danced till 2:30 AM, we wake up at 8:30 and I look out the window. This morning there is no one on the lake. We head down to breakfast at the Deli, the hotel is quiet, and it looks like we are among the early risers. We get on our ski gear and get in a couple of hours before the New Yearís Day brunch. It seems like all we do is eat. After brunch we sit in the lounge talking with the friends weíve made. Then we head to our room to pack. Tomorrow we are planning an early start.
Sunday, January 2, 2000
Although our flight is at 5:50pm, we get up early and hit the road before 10am. We stop in Banff for a while but the weather is not great today, cold and overcast, and we donít feel much like walking around. We get back on the road to Calgary, glad that we allowed the extra time. Unlike the trip up, there is plenty of snow on the roads and we do not have a 4-wheel drive car. We take our time and arrive in Calgary around 1:30 pm. We return the car and check in for our flight, and clear US customs in Canada. Itís great because it saves time when you land in the US. We board on time and get back to Seattle on schedule. It was a great trip.
© 2000, Rosemary Anders
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