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I bet you thought I'd finished telling you about my Banff trip, didn't you? Au contraire, my dear Internet! There's more! A lot, lot more, in fact. Day five in Banff was our last, sadly, but since our flight wasn't until the evening, we had quite a nice long time to enjoy it. And since we weren't hitting the mountains for the first time in three days, we even managed a lie-in. And after the lie-in? Why, we had breakfast at Chili's, of course. At Chili's? Oh yes indeed, at Chili's. Your eyes are not deceiving you; you read that right.

Our hotel, you see, had a Chili's on the premises. This proved to be something of a small source of confusion to us but apparently totally normal to everyone we encountered in Banff. "You're staying at the Fox?" they'd ask. "Oh yeah, I've been there. Well, not to the hotel, but I've had dinner at the Chili's." We, however, did not have dinner at the Chili's, but we did have breakfast there: our room came with two complimentary breakfast coupons both mornings and both mornings we dutifully took these complimentary breakfast coupons down to the Chili's and presented them to the girl pouring coffee.  I have to say, for a Chili's, the breakfast was pretty darn good. I'm not sure what I was expecting---a fajita omelette? Baby back rib pancakes?---but what we got was an abundant buffet consisting of such delights as plain yogurt with berries, granola, make-your-own-waffles, and surprisingly delicious scones and muffins.

After breakfast, we took a quick spin around the local Safeway---so I could stock up on all my favorite English candy bars, of course---then headed to The Banff Center, which, I have to say, was one of the coolest and most unexpected parts about Banff. You think Banff, you think skiing, right? You think nature and hiking and the great outdoors, but I bet you don't really think culture. (I didn't, at least, though I suppose it could just be that I'm a neanderthal.)

The Banff Center, however, has culture in spades: a few nights before, in fact, we'd been to see a performance by The Mighty Popo, a musician who grew up in Burundi and whose band brought the house down, and had everyone, us included, standing in their seats and dancing in the aisles by the end of the show. (If you don't know anything about Popo---and I didn't---this video gives you a pretty good idea of his music. Except it's kind of in French, so...you know, there's that. Hope you took it in high school!)

The Banff Center, however, isn't just a great place to see a good show---or a good play or a good opera or a good recital---but it's also an educational epicenter where artists of all sorts come for workshops and retreats and inspiration (Yann Martel and Joni Mitchell have both been in residence.) Even more importantly, its fantastic restaurant Vistas is open to the public, and the minute you walk in to Vistas, you....uh, well you kind of realize how it got its name:

You also realize that despite what you might have thought about yourself previously, you're totally the kind of girl who takes three desserts from the buffet table without shame:

After leaving the Banff Center, we went for a leisurely drive, during which we spotted the very famous and fancy Fairmont Banff Springs...

...the Banff Upper Hot Springs themselves....

....and finally the largest tires on a bus I've ever, ever seen.

Look, I even stood next to them for comparison---I'm like the human equivalent of a dime!---to show you just how big they were.

And while Sean, quite hilariously, thought this was a bus full of tourists when we first pulled into the parking lot, it's actually a vehicle that traverses the Columbia Icefield (how awesome does that look? I'm totally coming back in summer) and if there's ever an excuse for tires that almost dwarf a person of 5"6, I guess the need to traverse an icefield would be it. (HEAR THAT, PEOPLE WHO DRIVE HUMMERS IN SAN FRANCISCO? YOUR VEHICLE DOESN'T TRAVERSE ICEFIELDS. I'M TALKING TO YOU.)

After we'd seen a bear (except kind of not really)...

....it was time to board the Banff Gondola, something I'd been looking forward to for the entire trip. Here are a few pictures Sean took of the Banff Gondola, and these pictures are pretty much for the express purpose of freaking out my mother, who hates heights and things swinging from heights and who would probaby rather get run over by a bus with enormous tires traversing an icefield than ride the Banff Gondola up the side of a mountain.

We, however, thought it was awesome. Although Sean did freak out just a little bit on the very steep, very shaky, very wow-is-this-how-it'll-end ride up to the top:

Once we were up there, the view was just astounding.

Although Internet, I've got to tell you, I don't think I've ever been so cold in my life:

Back in town, we had about an hour to kill before we left for the airport in Calgary, so we wandered around downtown Banff, which is picture-postcard pretty and definitely one of the loveliest downtowns I've ever seen:

While Sean was trying on snowboarding boots with an adorable teenage boy in a plaid shirt who looked like he walked straight out of the 70s ("an adorable teenage boy who looked like he walked straight out of the 70s in Canada," corrected Sean) I wandered from storefront to storefront, strolling into cute little candy stores and walking around with a delighted grin on my face like....well, like a kid in a candy store, I guess. I spent the better half of my paycheck at a fabulous place called Welch's ("the sweetest shop in town") and almost died with happiness when I discoverd that they still sold sweets in jars (remember how much I like sweets in jars?)

All too soon it was time to find a) the parking lot containing our rental car, and b) a clean public restroom---both free, I might add! Boy, you Canadians know how to treat a gal---and get started on the 90-minute drive back to the airport in Calgary. Lest you think we did this alone, however, I shall admit that we were in the company of a very large bag of caramel nut popcorn, which we bought at the urging of someone in the comments (I can't remember who! Was it you?) and thoroughly enjoyed. Thank you, person in the comments! My thighs thank you too. Except actually they don't.

I'm going to be honest, here. When BlogHer and Banf Lake Louise first proposed the idea of a sponsored trip to Banff, I was excited, of course (see: sponsored trip), but I was also a little bemused: Banff?, I thought. I didn't know anything about Banff, and besides, I wasn't, like, some Olympic skiier or anything. I mean, sure, I liked to (try and) ski, but I also liked to eat and drink and shop and stay in hotels with comfy beds and flat-screen TVs. The trip to Banff would be fun, I decided, but it wouldn't be somewhere I'd necessarily choose to go on vacation.

Well, Internet, I was wrong. I was stone-cold, not even kidding, totally and absolutely wrong. Banff rocks.

Look, I'd tell you if it didn't, trust me---sponsored trip or no sponsored trip, I'm always going to give you the truth---but it really, really does. Hand to heart, I'd go back in a second. I loved the people, I loved the cosmopolitan dining options, I loved the unexpected dose of culture, I loved the feel of downtown, I loved the patient ski instructors,  I loved the breathtaking scenery,  and I loved the fact that it only took us two hours to get there on the plane. I truly recommend it as a fantastic place for a vacation, and not just because I want you to bring me back some Cadburys while you're there.

And if you do go, please let me know if you'd like me to answer any questions or share with you any other information about where we ate or stayed or visited, because honestly, we had one of the best vacations we've had in ages in Banff. And you know what? I think that's saying something for a couple of people who recently got engaged in Rome.

14 Comments

1
DiaryofWhy
Feb 12, 2009

In your defense, those desserts were all adorably wee, in you were perfectly within your rights taking multiples!

2
Chloe
Feb 12, 2009

I take three desserts too. And sometimes I even steal Husband's when he's not looking.

And now, thanks to you, I also want to vacation in Banff. It looks so pretty! Never mind the fact that I already live near a bunch of mountains, I HATE being cold, and I absolutely refuse to ski (because I know I will meet my death cartwheeling at 90mph into a tree).

But the prettiness! I want to go! *sniffles*

3
aveleigh
Feb 12, 2009

I worked at the Banff Center! I was just a housekeeper... but I was still very excited to be part of such an awesome place. I used to get into concerts for half price and I saw some of the most amazing shows. I'm glad you got to check it out, because I think a lot of visitors miss it.

4
soul-fusion
Feb 12, 2009

I really, really want to go there now. Thanks for helping me add another destination to my long, long list. I never would have thought of this one on my own.

5
Lori
Feb 12, 2009

Two years ago, my husband and I went camping in Banff. Two glorious weeks. We were there just a bit before school lets out in Canada so there were no crowds.

In the summer, EVERYONE is riding around on their bike. I saw people on the INTERSTATE riding their bike. I was jealous. Absolutely gorgeous and now, after traveling vicariously through you, I'd love to go back in winter.

6
geeky
Feb 12, 2009

Thank you so much for sharing your trip experience (and pictures) with us, Holly! I've always wanted to visit Banff and now I really, really want to visit Banff. I've been working hard to convince my husband that we NEED to go. He mentioned maybe going to Banff next summer, so if we do, I'll be contacting you to get the inside scoop!

7
Raven
Feb 12, 2009

I would be apt to not only take 3 desserts but to take them BEFORE I ate my dinner. I also would be defenseless against candy in jars.

Your posts have convinced me, a trip to Banff is going in my travel wish list!

8
edj
Feb 12, 2009

You need to go back and next time go on to Jasper. That will bring world peace all right. I am spacing on the name of the road, but just the name is cool (something about Glaciers. Glacier View? 1001 Glaciers? something)

9
Kristen
Feb 12, 2009

I love Banff. We just got back (stayed at the Rimrock, an AWESOME resort with a great spa). I can still smell the fresh air. We ate at the Salt Lik which was so fantastic I am going to start a lobby group to get one in my hometown (rhymes with vagina). I'm glad you enjoyed Canada!

10
Karen
Feb 12, 2009

One summer when I was 16, my parents took me and my best friend on a road trip all over the Pacific Northwest and parts of western Canada that ended in Banff. In fact, we even went to see the Athabasca Glacier. I don't remember much else since it was so long ago, but your recounting your trip makes me want to go back there to experience it as an adult.

Oh and BTW, Happy Belated Birthday!! (I saw it on Moose's blog)

11
Gail at Large
Feb 12, 2009

Seeing these pictures brought me back to when I was 18 and working there. Instead of paying for the gondola, I would hike up that mountain and take the gondola down for free. I doubt it's free anymore, but I'll bet the hike's still great.

12
Steve Wright
Feb 12, 2009

Hi Holly.

Have been following and loving your dispatches from Banff. Send us a note and we'll send you and Sean off a matching set of "Trailside Romance" shirts, hot off the presses from Banff Lake Louise. The shirts were inspired by a true cowboy in Banff and we're selling them as a fund-raiser for the Banff Community Foundation.

Take a look and let us know which version you'd like:
http://www.cafepress.com/banfflakelouise

Hope to see you back in town soon!

13
Rob Hughes
Feb 13, 2009

Looks like you had a blast - Great pics!!

All the best,
Rob
Brewster Inc.

14
Rob Hughes
Feb 13, 2009

Looks like you had a blast - Great pics!!

All the best,
Rob
Brewster Inc.