The second part of our Alaskan adventure took us to the Canadian Rockies.
We arrive in Calgary, home of the 1988 Winter Olympics, where we fail spectacularily at getting any photos of the local grizzlies, although the squirrels where only too happy to pose.
We were up early the next day to catch our flight to Calgary. A 30 minute taxi ride through Vancouver took us to the airport where we boarded our flight with Air Canada. It wasn’t a particularly long flight but we all gave each other worried looks at the amount of turbulence we experience when coming into land.
Upon landing we asked one of the crew & this was apparently quite normal due to the cold air coming in off the Rockies; I think we all agreed it would have been nice to know beforehand! We joined our coach tour & Doug, the tour director, did his best to make everyone feel welcome.
The trip to our overnight accommodation in the Fairmont Palliser in downtown Calgary took around 20 minutes & we received a brief overview of what to expect from the tour ahead & also a little about the area in general. Upon arrival we were already checked in as a group by the Princess Tours team which included Doug & our driver for the week, Piho.
We were left to our own devices for the evening & found the nearby bars & restaurants just around the corner. The weather in Calgary was much warmer than Alaska so we sat outside & soaked up the atmosphere for the rest of the evening before heading to bed in the knowledge we had an early start in the morning.
We officially began our Gold Leaf Rocky Mountain Tour the next morning & we were all geared up for the 2 hour journey into the mountains, so it was a pleasant surprise when, after 20 minutes, we pulled over & were given a 30 minute window to look around the site of the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.
This was the year when Edie the Eagle & the Jamaican Bobsleigh Team made their name! This was a sign of things to come as the coach pulled over unexpectedly at both historic & picturesque sights between the daily start & finish points.
It really made you forget about being on a coach as we were rarely travelling for more than an hour without a break. Our first overnight stop was in the historic town of Banff where we visited the Banff Park Museum & stopped off for lunch in a local restaurant.
We were staying at the stunning Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. I’m sure had we had more time, we would have had a go at one of the multitude of outdoor activities on offer which included river rafting, kayaking, and golf to name but a few.
Instead, we chose to head to the pool area to relax for an hour prior to dinner, after which, Max & Ash shared a rather romantic fondue which, to Max’s continued despair (we heard about this for at least 72 hours non-stop afterwards!), the meat was raw & had to be cooked in a stock before it could be eaten – Not the best choice when you’re starving hungry!
Our final day in the Rockies (we only did the first half of the tour) took us onto Lake Louise where on route we stopped at the local ski area. Word was out that bears had recently been seen in the area & we were looking forward to seeing them from the chairlifts.
We headed for the queue only to realize Max was 50 yards behind taking photos – of ground squirrels!! We dragged him away long enough for the safety briefing before queuing for the lift. We jumped on the same one & each had our area to watch, me off to the left, Ash down the middle, & Max+ camera to the right.
We were officially on Bear Watch but after nothing for the first 15 minutes we weren’t feeling positive as we slowly made our way up the mountain. We suddenly ground to a halt & quickly realized that we’d broken down but agreed that it was clearly fate that, as we’d come to a halt in a tunnel of trees, then soon enough a couple of local grizzlies would wander by & strike a couple of poses long enough for Max to take a few photos.
Much to our surprise, we heard a commotion off to our right, behind the trees, along with cries of “That’s the biggest bear I’ve ever seen!” & “There’s more, look over there!”. Of course being 30 feet up in our tree tunnel meant we missed all the action & after another 20 minutes hanging around, we set off again at a crawl taking a further 10 minutes to get to the top, by which time the bears had disappeared.
Once we got over this, we were then told that the lift we were on was broken (for the first time in 10 years!!) & that we’d need to wait for a 4×4 to pick us up & take us back down the mountain – an unexpected highlight to the day!
We then re-joined the coach for the short journey to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, via a couple of local sightseeing hotspots, where we were to spend our last night before the flight home.
Our final day began with another early start (I’m not cut out for this!!) at 5.30am & we made our way back to Calgary airport. A short flight to San Francisco with Air Canada before our flight back to Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic brought a close to our trip.
I will definitely head back to both Alaska & Canada in the future to finish off both the cruise & tour & really hope to experience more of what both these destinations have to offer.
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