One Week in Alberta, Canada -- Part One

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Hi friends! As you may or may not know, Rob and I went out on a ~*Western Canada Road Trip*~ this past week! We found out early on in knowing each other that both of us love western Canada and try to make an annual pilgrimage in the fall. Him primarily for Caps games, me primarily for #insta #content, but we go nonetheless. We decided to combine our trips this year and make one hybrid western Canada vacation that took a little bit of his tradition and a little bit of mine. Here’s how we spent our week in Alberta!

Day Zero: DC ↠ Denver

The biggest difference in this trip from the past for both of us is pretty major: we didn’t drive. Though we originally laid out a trip that got us across the states, through Regina for the Heritage Classic, and culminated in a couple days in Portland, after a lot of thought we determined it wasn’t worth the investment in time or money. We realized that the most bang for our buck would come from flying directly into Calgary and spending plenty of time exploring Alberta as a whole — we’d get a little bit of a road trip that way anyway. Though it was absolutely heartbreaking for me to have to leave G behind, I was happy knowing that he was having the time of his life in the burbs with Rob’s family. Plus, by shortening the trip and flying directly to Canada, we got to experience more of the “meat” of the vacation and less of the necessary-but-less-interesting parts that come with road tripping.

A few weeks out, we piecemealed together a flight plan. We decided we’d leave from BWI and head to Denver on southwest, which we could fortunately do for free.99, and stay the night at Rob’s old place, which was graciously offered to us by his former roommates. The next morning, we’d grab the once-weekly Frontier flight from Denver to Calgary, pick up the car and start the trip!

Saturday evening, we arrived at BWI with lots of excitement and one very full suitcase. The one major downside of flying instead of driving is you can’t bring literally whatever you want with no limits, including but not limited to dogs, hair products, and many many sweaters. So, as Rob parked the car, I furiously unpacked and repacked our seventeen-pound-overweight suitcase until I was wearing two coats, winter boots, and had 20 more pounds of camera gear and curling irons in my backpack, but then we were good to go.

Arriving in Denver, we realized I could actually rent a car for the night cheaper than it would be to get an Uber to Rob’s place and back the next morning, so we did. The best part about this plan, aside from saving us cash dollars, is that Rob operates under the guise that we live in Saudi Arabia and has rarely if ever made me/allowed me to drive since my car died. I rented the car though, so I had to drive, and he got a healthy dose of my night blindness behind the wheel on Colorado’s back roads. He loved it.

Day One: Denver ↠ Calgary ↠ Canmore

A literal full lie told straight to my face TO MY FACE

The next morning, we were up bright and early for our flight up to Calgary. After another delay (mitigated by helpful intel from Rob’s friend on the ramp), we made it in safely, grabbed the car (#durangosquad), and hit the first stop: Tim Hortons. There, I was cruelly and brutally lied to in what can only be described as a blatant disregard for my well-being and a borderline personal attack. I ordered an iced vanilla latte. I waited five minutes. I was delivered a hot latte. Countering my best instincts, I apologized to the woman who took our order, saying I was sorry but I ordered this iced. She told me they don’t make an iced vanilla latte. Speechless, I left the store. [Editor’s note: per Rob’s suggestion, this incident will henceforth be known as #vanillagate]

Rocky start aside, we went along our way and arrived in Canmore, where we were staying for the next two nights. We both had been to Canmore before, and were excited to show each other what we remembered and try out some new things together. Since we arrived a little too late to head out into the parks (and the Eagles had the night game) we decided to head into town.

Downtown, we stopped at the Grizzly Paw for beers, yam fries, and poutine number 1 for Rob.

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After wrapping up there, we ventured off to try and find someplace to watch the game. Canmore is an insanely cute mountain town that I absolutely adore, but the one thing they don’t exactly have in spades is sports bars. Fortunately, they do have Tavern 1883, which has a handful of TVs, super nice employees, and a plethora of both Labatt’s and Molson. Rob and I proceeded to delete multiple Fine Canadian Lagers while I watched the Eagles proceed to delete all appearances of being a Good Football Team. The birds had fun, I had fun, everyone had a great time, as long as your idea of a great time is heart-wrenching agony and defeat.

The funny thing about sports out west is that there’s nothing after the late games and you’re not tired at all, which is a little bit the worst. Mercifully, the Sunday night entertainment at Tavern 1883 is music bingo, which I loved and am very good at, as good at one could be at a game entirely determined by chance. After coming in second place and only cheating a couple times, we headed back to the hotel, ready for our early morning wakeup the next day.

Day Two: Banff National Park

Visiting the Canadian Rockies in late fall can be tricky. When we left DC, we just started getting 60-degree days. Up in the mountains, there was already packed snow on the ground. Late October can be particularly awkward because so much of what you’re doing is dependent on the weather, and the weather is so unpredictable, not much is available. Moraine Lake, arguably the most stunning place on the entire planet, closes after Canadian Thanksgiving as the road, which is long and winding, becomes an avalanche risk. Many hikes accessible to “regular people” (ie me ie see the last time i tried to hike something and how well it went) are closed or too difficult due to mud, ice, and other winter conditions. Summer crowds have largely gone away, but winter tourism isn’t yet in full swing. Most of the lakes haven’t frozen over, but you’re much more likely to get snow than sun. It’s a weird time to go, but a lot of these things are why it’s my favorite time.

My number one tip for any day, any time of year in Banff National Park: get up early. Catch the sunrise if you can. More likely than not, if you get to your destination before 9am, you’ll have the best shot at decent weather. Fewer tourists with no concept of personal space will be around. You can explore the parks with more freedom and less worry that your ~connection with nature~ will be disrupted by, well, nature.

That being said, we headed out to Lake Louise around 8am. We arrived to a mostly empty parking lot and a sight even more beautiful than I remembered. I re-took the photo I took my first time at Lake Louise, which I thought was the most gorgeous thing I had ever seen. Then when I compared it to the photo I’d just taken (swipe below to see), I was surprised by more than just the fact that my hair had only grown like two inches in two years.

Like… GOD. Did it literally get prettier? How was that even possible? We were so, so fortunate to have near perfect conditions. A fresh dusting of snow with more on the way. The sun peaking through on the mountains. Glassy blue water and visibility through to the mountain peaks. We’re so lucky. I cannot get over it.

Aside from it being in my blood, these conditions are what made me scam Rob into taking that extremely extra #travelcouples photo up top. I have no regrets, I love it so much, I love him, I want to look at that photo every day forever. It, like he, is perfect.

After some time in Lake Louise, we moved on to the next adventure.

Looking back on the things we’d both seen on our separate trips to the area in the past, I was always so jealous that Rob got to see Peyto lake when it wasn’t even on my radar during my visit. I was so devastated to hear though that just a week before we arrived, the trail to Peyto had closed for construction and would be inaccessible until 2021.

In the (highly questionable) words of a stranger on instagram though… mother nature is never closed. So after much debate, driving back and forth along the Icefields, and hyping ourselves up to pay the $25k fine if we were caught, we decided to take the risk and find our way to the viewpoint anyway. FULL DISCLOSURE: I DO NOT recommend doing this! I know a few people have been trespassing (the tracks in the snow make it clear), but it’s important to remember that park rules and regulations exist for our safety, and if we had seen any active construction vehicles or other people there, we absolutely would not have gone. We were very lucky to get there just days after the closure so we could get in and out disrupting as little as possible.

That. Being. Said….. seeing Peyto all by ourselves while the fresh snow was falling all around us was an absolutely once in a lifetime experience. I was truly speechless. My camera was basically dead from the cold, so we didn’t take quite as many photos, but just being there and living in the moment was so completely unforgettable. Since I got sick, I’ve developed this tendency to kind of make mental notes of moments in my life I’ve been blessed to live long enough to see. Not to say that every day I’ve had hasn’t been a gift, because it absolutely has, but some moments stand out more than others. On this day I felt blessed as hell, y’all.

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exploring future career paths

exploring future career paths

After leaving Peyto, fortunately without police involvement, we returned to downtown Banff to grab some food and explore a little. We hit up Banff staple Touloulous for a late brunch, where I grabbed breakfast poutine and a scalding boozy hot chocolate I was inexplicably served with a straw. The portions were generous and delicious but the service was not ideal — Rob’s precious caesar was taken from him unfinished the second we paid our bill, which was his equivalent of my #vanillagate and in my personal opinion the height of rudeness.

From there, we walked around Banff for a bit, exploring the touristy downtown area and passing the time touching everything in the souvenir stores and fantasizing about my mountie boyfriend.

Back in Canmore and beat from the long day, we stopped in town for food at Graze (where we were updated on the Canadian federal election that we had no idea was happening), at the grocery store for more snacks (including Canadian delicacies that Rob was very popular for on instagram), and headed to the hotel to watch a spooky movie and get some rest.

Day Three: Canmore ↠ Calgary

With time to kill before our Calgary airbnb was ready, we took our time leaving Canmore and getting into the city. We started by driving around town and looking at houses to buy when we leave our jobs and move out here. When we got to Calgary, we stopped at a mall to grab some lunch and look at tiny baby hockey gloves. By the time we were good to check in, we relaxed for a bit and then got ready to head out to the Saddledome.

a delightfully inexplicable sign in the context of a hockey arena

The Saddledome is a mighty old arena shaped like a saddle, which I definitely didn’t think was a real thing until I saw that it did, in fact, appear rideable. There’s a cool series of outdoor concourses which make a ton of sense in a place like Calgary. This place is old as dirt and it shows, but it’s arguably a fun environment for a team like Calgary and fans like the C of red.

if you like your $3.80 bud light sipped through a straw and tasting strongly of wine, boy have i got the spot for you

Pregame, they run a happy hour, where for the low low price of $5CAD, you can get an ice cold 14 ounce skunked Bud Light that tastes just like the ones they used to serve at Iron Horse, before, you know, they shut it down. I know Bud Light isn’t for everyone’s palate, but I personally much prefer my Bud Light to taste like water than like literal white wine.

Amenities are limited, though they did have a cute Budweiser bar on the press level where we could watch other sports while we waited. Seating is wild, with the arena being built basically into a lower level and an upper level, and then evidently deciding it wasn’t enough, so shoving a dozen more sections in the rafters of the press level where visibility is largely obstructed. In the uppers, we had the delight of sitting in front of a group of guys we’re lovingly referring to as “letterkenny,” who had the absolute scorchingest hot takes on the game AND the fallout from the election. A true treat and a very ~authentic~ experience. All told, the Caps walked away with an uneventful W and we had a lovely night!

Day Four: Calgary

We waffled a lot on what to do with our awkward “rest day” between Calgary and Edmonton, but ultimately decided to stay in Calgary, explore the city, and treat ourselves to a nice dinner. With a little inspo from @alexiistherese and @bryanadamc, who happened to be in the area at the same time we were, we ventured out to some of the city’s more photogenic places.

We started at Calgary Central Library, which is a feat of architecture and exactly as amazing as everyone makes it out to be. The lines were stunning, and the light was so soft and beautiful; we had a blast walking around, exploring, and taking photos on all the floors.

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From there, we ventured out to the Peace Bridge, which is one of Calgary’s most iconic landmarks, arguably because it’s fairly ugly and therefore controversial, but also because its lines, much like the library’s, are great for the #content.

We caught the sunset over the Bow River and took some shots while maneuvering around the bikers, pedestrians, and other photographers traveling across the bridge.

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When the sun went down, we embarked on the best part of our time in Calgary: Dinner. We decided to treat ourselves to one fancy dinner on our vacation, and Modern Steak was the play. They were running an awesome date night special for two steaks, two sides, and a bottle of wine for $78CAD, which is literally free, so we took advantage as we are traditionally ballers on a budget.

Let me tell y’all. This steak. My mouth still waters when I think about it. I want to go back to Calgary on a weekly basis to eat it again. I very rarely eat something like steak and find myself wanting more when I’m done, but I could legitimately eat this every day until my heart gives out and would die a happy death. It was truly perfect. We finished our meal with a baked alaska that was flambeed tableside and very literally drenched in 151, and despite the obvious flashbacks to college that 151 conjures, it was a boozy, caramelly, fluffy, toasty delight.

We ran across the street to Warehouse on Stephen Ave where we enjoyed some postgame PBR, a little baseball, some good conversation, and an eclectic music mix from A Day to Remember to Die Antwoord. When we called it a night, we returned to our airbnb and crushed around five episodes of the Joy of Painting with Bob Ross, a nightcap I highly recommend. We fell asleep a little drunk and very invested in our futures in painting happy little trees.

I’m gonna wrap it up here because I’ve been rambling for four days, but I’ll follow up with the rest of our vacation in the next post!

Katie SpenceComment