Banff in Eight Days

mountain with flowers

Mountain View from Banff Centre

“You want to go where?” I asked the husband. “We paid the bill for the upcoming river cruise for May. Now you want to go to someplace in August? Show me the itinerary. I don’t know if I’ll be ready to travel again that soon.” As I read the description in the Roadscholar catalog, I went to Google to search locate Banff. It’s about ninety miles from Calgary according to the map is in the province of Alberta, east of British Columbia on the Pacific Coast.

The description shouts at me like a barker at the Texas State Fair. The price appears reasonable as the fees cover airfare, a transfer to and from the airport, all meals, except two, rooms at the Banff Conference Centre, a local guide for the week and much more. August in the mountains? A local guide? Lectures on the local scenery and history? I’m ready to register!

My husband and I traveled with the Roadscholar organization several years ago to Lafayette, Louisiana and enjoyed it. We learned to dance, visited an accordion factory and listened to Zydeco music. A large, creaky boat slid through the swamps with alligators. Cajun food and sumptuous specialties added to our girth.

Within five minutes I decide that Banff might be cooler and more captivating than Texas in August. Not having to drive in the mountains meant far less stress in my life. Ted and I don’t always agree on speed limits in the mountains.

Emerald Lake

Our Group (the Bears) Overlooking Emerald Lake

Banff Conference Center

I knew little about Banff Centre, where we stayed, until after we arrived. In my own words, it’s a non-credit haven for artists who want to improve themselves, away from the drudgery of everyday life for classes and community with other artists.  Sculptors, painters, potters, actors, producers, video wizards and even mathematicians from around the world apply for limited openings in their classes. The Centre has ten or twelve buildings, a huge fitness center, restaurants, four small theaters, a large theater, and a film production center with one of those big green screens the “big boys” use in California.

If you only have a few minutes don’t visit their website. You need a minimum of half an hour to grasp the extent of the various programs, events, and variety of activities. We were privy to many of the short films for their upcoming Film Festival. Their audio-visual equipment is top-notch with the latest technology. They offer study and research in an extraordinary number of areas. I would love to attend an author’s program but not in the winter.

People

The staff at the Conference Centre where we stayed do not work for the RoadScholar organization, but a joint effort. The sleeping rooms are not fancy but comfortable. The water pressure works and the water runs hot and cold. (Texans rarely have cold water in the faucet in summertime). Although the beds are comfortable, we could have slept on rocks from fatigue at night.

The Roadscholar leadership impresses us. People in our group arrive from across the US. with a few from Canada and outside the US. We number 120 to 130 in the big group. Each of the four groups has its own local guide. Our guide was funny, knowledgeable and kept us moving from breakfast through dinner.

Hiking

Ruth climbing

Ruth on the Rocks-Scary!

Both Ted and I hike from 10,000-15,000 steps a day. The guide instills confidence in our group. “No, it’s not too hilly. No, I’ve never lost anyone or had to carry anyone to the hospital from a fall.  Yes, it’s worth the hike to see the waterfall, but you might not want to take the time to walk to the larger one if you walk slowly.” He happened to snap a picture of me at the worst moment of the trip. I conquered the stony upward march to the top to view the stunning turquoise water in the lake below. Little pebbles, large rocks, and steep rock steps with no handrails keep me more alert than an eagle. One woman loses her cell phone but retraces her steps to the gift shop where a kind traveler had given it to the clerk.

Flowers

Flowers bloom everywhere. My best moment arrived while gazing at the field of flowers climbing the mountainside at Emerald Lake. Lake Louise appears more often in brochures but I preferred Emerald Lake. The hill of flowers, produced by an avalanche, races toward the sky away from the pristine, turquoise water at the bottom of the mountain.

If you visit my FaceBook page for August 21-27 when I was there, you can see flower photos of my favorites that week. I try not to post photos when I’m out of town, as I’m told it may entice burglars to visit my home.

 

Bears, Geography, and Geology

brown bear

Angel Bear in a Lodge

Each group had an animal name. We were the Bears. I’m not sorry we didn’t run into bears as I’m fearless in front of dogs, but not around wild animals. The Bears enjoyed many lectures before trooping to the bus for excursions. My favorite lecture covered information on bears. A lady who works for the Canadian government gave us a lecture from her thirty years of experience living in the backcountry to study bears’ habits and protect them. Her long, curly hair reminded me of a hippy from the 70’s.  She engaged the audience with her stories of vegetation for pregnant bears and the night she spent in her car with bears hovering outside the windows. The archeological history brought the latest insights for the audience.  The geographer provided insight on the formation of the lakes, flooding, and related ecological challenges.

Several hilarious moments occurred along our path that week. I loved what happened when everyone on the bus was sleeping on a return to Banff. The guide wanted to show us something as we neared Banff and played roosters crowing. That woke everyone, even my husband, as we roared with laughter. Near the end of our trip, we hiked in a nearby park. Our group and the guide adhered to accurate schedules. That morning a few Bears lagged behind on the stony hillside. The guide, without thinking, yelled, “Bears. Come along now!” Although he shook with laughter, he realized what a mistake we witnessed as he called to us, his group of Bears. Only human Bears appeared on the trail that day.

Summary

I may write more about Banff for an upcoming travel anthology I’m thinking of compiling. I want feedback from you about this article to understand what I need to add or delete. I think I could write ten times the amount of information about Banff to share with you. Should I give more details about the food, the history or is this enough? Please send your feedback to ruth@ruthglover.com.

Next time you are puzzled about where to travel, think about Banff, regardless of the season. I’m told it is one of the most magnificent places in the world. And I agree.

 

Cool Place, Hot Location

Hotels are not the only place to stay! 

Quiet Moment

A Quiet Moment in the Midst of Christmas Week

We arrived in Houston on December 22 for our stay at the Domain at City Center  for eight days. The mammoth complex sits in the middle of Town and Country Village, as they call it. The price is about the same as a hotel room. We would be near our two sons and six grand-children. A son checked the model apartment beforehand to assure the reality of the online advertisement. “You’ll be claustrophobic in 750 square feet (not true), and the traffic, awful (true),” he reported. We signed the contract without knowing other aspects. The property is owned by an individual, not the leasing company.

Last year we stayed in Houston a month in a VRBO rental with three bedrooms and two baths. We thought the grand-children might visit us and stay overnight a few times. Didn’t happen.

Our dog presents an issue wherever we travel. Fargo is the perfect guest unless left alone. He’s quite good in a hotel room as long as we are with him. He barks incessantly with fear of abandonment if no one is with him. Over the six years we have owned him, we tried unsuccessful remedies to quiet his fierce barking. When he travels with us, we tend to eat in our hotel or motel room. If it’s cold enough, he stays in the car while we rush through dinners. In Houston we could deposit his blanket, dishes, leash, and bad habit with either family. The barking, little thirteen-pound beast, loves the grand-kids and grand-dogs.  On this trip we ate with family much of the time.

Watching cars

I wanna watch cars, Dad!

The Condo

The condo contained everything we needed, even a little balcony above a garden. The owner left coffee, salt, pepper, bottled water, garbage bags, soap for the dishwasher…even kitchen shears for us.  The furniture and decorations probably came from Ikea. Everything was comfortable, even the bed, which is not always the case with furnished rental properties.

Other positives included a parking place (quite small) on the same floor as our rental and a dog park! I didn’t think Fargo would like the phony grass but he loved it. He and I walked around the condo grounds and hiked the neighborhood of office and condo buildings. I never let him off-lease except in the dog park. One day he and I made 10,000+ steps according to my FIT. Other amenities in the building: a meeting area with coffee, an outdoor pool, an exercise room, and outdoor grills.

Shops and Restaurant

the plaza

The Plaza-food, music, strollers, shops

Gourmet restaurants line the streets, along with retail shops and other businesses. One night I purchased carry-out from a high-end Mexican restaurant a few steps outside our building. Another night we had designer pizza and salad from a restaurant by the plaza across from us. At night musicians performed there. Recognizable brands abound. How about Sur la Table, Abercrombie & Fitch, Ulta, and Barnes and Noble? A grocery and a pharmacy are “walkable,” although maybe not when it’s over 100 degrees. Christmas Day the temperature hit 82 degrees.

Other Properties

This is our fourth “VBRO” or Vacation Rental by Owner.* VRBOs are great for a long or short stay. They are not quite like home but certainly more exciting than a boring and expensive hotel. Our short stay this year will lead to more travel. It’s so much fun to try someone else’s home or condo, especially in such a hot place in a cool location.

*VRBO or Vacation Rental By Owner is part of the Homeaway conglomerate owned by Expedia.

Changing Plans: from Charleston to Jefferson

Enjoying Jefferson, Texas: Part 2

breakfast

Breakfast at the Carriage House

When the hurricane and high tides “attacked” Charleston, South Carolina on our dream vacation, we returned toTexas after two full days. Much to my surprise, my husband made reservations at the Carriage House Bed and Breakfast to complete our vacation. He found the property online, choosing it when he read they serve a “two course breakfast.” The man likes good food and I love antiques! Changing plans meant new adventure.

Happy Anniversary

Jessi Brooks, owner of the Carriage House, knows the ins and outs of hospitality with 30 plus years in the hospitality industry. She decided, about six years ago, to transfer her skills from large hotel chains to her own business. When she discovered the Carriage House on the market, she and her sister began the negotiations. Located on the edge of the shopping district in Jefferson, Texas, the property needed her decorative touch to make it “her own.” Read a more detailed account of her life and the property on the website.

The weekend we arrived on her doorstep several guests celebrated their anniversaries and Jessi’s accomplishments since opening a year ago. I asked her why she left corporate America. Her response, “I wanted to have my own place where I can achieve amazing customer service for my guests.”

Thoughtful Customer Service

Jessi the owner

Jessi from Jefferson

The fire pit offered a surprising “extra” at the Carriage House. Early October brings balmy days and cool evenings. The wood fire on the patio created a splendid space for sharing the evening with the other guests. When she delivered blankets as we sat talking by the fire I realized how seriously she attends to detail. She thinks of everything! In the morning, the fire pit blazed for the focal point of visiting with others until breakfast. We had s’mores the previous night and a two course breakfast in the morning which included a blueberry compote/bread pudding for a starter. An egg dish followed.

A Little History

We knew from previous visits that the city exploded with paddlewheel boats for merchants between 1845 and 1873. The town grew to approximately 30,000 people during its heyday, but someone unflooded the Bayou and the river port dried up. Today Jefferson numbers around 2000 people. Many of the lovely B&Bs share the history from the era with their guests.

A Harrowing Halloween Story

Our new friends, the anniversary couple who both work for one of the chicken manufacturing plants in the area, planned to take the Ghost Tour during their stay. The wife told her own Halloween story.

At a Halloween party at a bowling alley near their home in East Texas, people attended in costume. She wore a fabulous witch costume. Her grandson, about age 5, was hit in the head at the party with a bowling ball causing severe bleeding. She picked him up squawking that he didn’t want stitches…he didn’t want to leave the party. She dumped him in the car, racing to the nearby hospital. She said, “I knew he’d need stitches when I saw the white meat on his chin.” Apparently the hospital could not tell who to treat in which department when they arrived. Hospital personnel saw an extremely bloody witch with a tall hat and small screaming, wounded child. I’m sure it was not funny at the time but her recitation grew raucous response from her listeners.

Nearby

Graceful Ghost

Graceful Ghost-steamboat on Caddo Lake

Nearby Caddo Lake is the largest, freshwater lake in Texas. We found Big Pines Lodge in Uncertain, Texas with tours available for fishing or  riding the small paddlewheel steamboat around the lake. Our hostess at the B&B suggested other places to eat and visit.

With sadness we visited Marshall Pottery, discovering they laid off the artist and small team producing one of a kind pottery to focus on manufacturing only clay pots. We had purchased a few pieces years ago which probably appreciated with the loss of their specialty pots, mugs, birdhouses, and other gift items. I questioned the lady at the  cash register who had tears in her eyes when she explained the large, vacant space with few products.

church

Church of Uncertain, Texas

Don’t be afraid of changing plans. We enjoyed Charleston, but we’ve made reservations to return to Jefferson again this time next year. I’m not thrilled about returning to Charleston yet, especially not during a full moon and hurricane to interfere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Showing Love: the Trip to Ohio

Valentine

Valentine’s Day Is Coming

 

Since Valentines Day is two weeks away, think about the word love.  Would it include “going home” for you?  Is there someone special who needs your love “at home?”  Regardless of the physical location, you may show love in many ways.  Today we easily send e-cards or use snail mail, but think about how you can demonstrate your love.  I had the opportunity to celebrate love and friendship by “going home”  last November.

 

 

Unexpected Invitation

I received an unexpected invitation to attend an anniversary party for a special couple in my life, who live in my hometown in Ohio.  Their adult children would surprise them with the party.  I don’t particularly like going home, as I have no relatives there and I’d rather go someplace flashier, like London or Los Angeles.  But, by attending the party, I would honor my friends, as staying married is hard work.  Plus,  the invitation was a good excuse to leave town for a few days.

Should we go?  We’d need to take the dog with such short notice.  But we haven’t seen fall color for a number of years.  And it would be fabulous to see our special friends and my husband’s relatives.   We packed!

Road Trip Beauty

The trees on the trip from Arkansas through Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio glowed red, yellow, green, purple and shades of pink.  Seeing the leaves brought back fond memories of jumping in huge piles of recently raked leaves.

Fall Leaves

Brilliant Fall Leaves in Ohio

Since the dog traveled with us, we had to find a pet-friendly hotel in my hometown.  There are two.  We arrived around dusk at a dilapidated, cheap motel with no cars around it.  The hotel looked like a place for thieves and disreputably endeavors .  The man in the next room with his curtain open gave me the creeps!  The “loved one” said it looked like the previous guests washed car parts in the tub.  The desk clerk said she could not cancel the reservation, despite the filthy room.  It was downright scary!  What a mistake!

Fortunately, the not-too-distant, expensive hotel had a vacancy.  Wow!  The inn, decorated with pumpkins and mums, had nearby woods for a walk through the pines the next morning.  The amazing colors and frost on the ground overcame the unpleasant departure from the cheesy hotel.  The cost for the new inn….priceless.  The food, the service, the cleanliness, after the long drive, made the experience much more relaxing.

The night of the party was frigid but the event was warm and friendly.  We were treated as extended family. Memories flashed through my head as fast as a high speed train,  as I watched my friend’s surprise when she came through the door.

Ruth and the dog on a chilly walk in Ohio

Ruth and the dog on a chilly walk in Ohio

Not all trips can be exceptional, but showing love to special friends periodically makes “going home” worthwhile, even with the bumps in the road.  Sometimes “going home” is exactly what we need to remember who and what are important in our lives.  What a happy, spontaneous trip to Ohio!

This Valentine’s Day, make sure you tell your friends how much you love them.  Love is not just sending a Hallmark card.

A special thanks to another special friend, who babysat our dog during the party and cooked a lovely meal for us.  What a nice way to show love!