Saturday, July 31, 2010

One Thing I’ve Learned . . .

whether the food is good or bad, restaurant meals in Canada are expensive.

[Kate] Knowing that we were going to an exclusive resort area where everything is expensive, I did some pre-trip research looking for “cheap eats.” While I didn’t find anything cheap, I did stumble on a web site called Taxi Mike’s Guide to Banff and one of his lunch recommendations was a restaurant called The Rose & Crown. Taxi Mike described this place as: “Nice casual pub with a great variety of Canadian and British dishes. Lunch there is always great! Huge Fish & Chips. Same menu for dinner including Fish & Chips and Shepherd’s Pie... Canadian style! There is a Rooftop patio with spectacular views. Also Live entertainment seven nights a week. Blues, Reggae, Funk, Pop. Dancing encouraged! It's where the locals’ go!“ A quick review of the on-line menu indicated that there would be enough items to pique both of our appetites.

You reach the restaurant by walking up a long and steep flight of stairs. Once you arrive huffing and puffing, you find yourself in a large square room with the center containing a smaller square holding the bar, kitchen, restrooms, etc. The décor could best be described as pub traditional with dark woodwork and a very low ceiling. Thinking that we wanted to eat outside, we took another long and steep flight of stairs up to the rooftop patio. All of the umbrella tables were occupied, and without cover, the roof was too hot and too sunny. Down the stairs we went to the bar area.

My dining companion was having trouble deciding what to order. First he looked at the appetizer menu and thought that he wanted the Sliders Italiano—spicy Italian sausage braised with fresh peppers, onions, and tomato then stuffed with aged cheddar inside of toasted baguette towers. With the sliders, he was planning to order the sweet potato fries served with basil cucumber mayo. If this was to be his lunch, then I would order the Button Bones—marinated bone-in pork bites tossed with lime and rock salt and accom-panied by fresh veggies and ranch for dipping. Or did he want the Fish & Chips (Alaskan ice water fish coated in beer batter and fried and served with fries), house-made Cole slaw and home-made tartar sauce. Or would it be the Shepherd’s Pie—seasoned ground beef and vegetables topped with a potato crown and covered with gravy. So he asked our server. Should he order the fish and chips or the shepherd’s pie? The recommendation was to get the shepherd’s pie—the server’s favorite dish on the menu.

Personally, I think he should have ordered the fish and chips. The shepherd’s pie was a large serving filled with ground beef, peas, corn, celery, carrots, and onions in a beef gravy. But the beef and/or gravy had been seasoned with some peppery spice that had a raw harsh taste and that had given the gravy a reddish tint. When I asked the server what the seasoning was, he didn’t know nor did he volunteer to find out. He eats this and doesn’t know what’s in it?

I, on the other hand, was luckier. I started with a small salad of red and green leaf lettuce with cherry tomatoes and cucumbers and the lime dill dressing. The dressing had a faintly sweet flavor and had more lime than dill, where I would have preferred more dill than lime.

But it was my lunch entrée (ordered from the appetizers list) that was the hit of the meal. Called Mussels Diablo, it was a bowl of thirteen plump and fresh Prince Edward Island mussels in a spicy chipotle cream with peppers, tomato, garlic slivers, and red onion. This was served with garlic bread which helped me sop up every drop of the spicy briny, mussel-infused broth. This was outrageously good.

For dessert, we shared a slice of the deep dish apple pie. The crust, rather than being a traditional rolled crust, was more like a shortbread. On top of this was a thin layer of custard followed by layers of apples and raisins and covered with a crumb topping and caramel drizzles.

So how did Taxi Mike do? My mussels rate 5.0 Addies, the pie rates 4.0 Addies, but Chuck’s shepherd’s pie only merits 3.0 Addies.

[Chuck] Before leaving the Rose and Crown, we noted the activity taking place outside the restaurant at Banff's main intersection. This seemed to be a popular location for photographs.

The town has a population of just under 9,000, but given that about four million people visit Banff National Park annually and hiking, mountaineering, and skiing are popular sports in the area, I would bet that the population more than doubles during many a weekend. The 135 rooms of the Mount Royal Hotel could accommodate many of these visitors.

Mount Rundle (elevation of 9,675 feet), shown behind the Balkan restaurant, is one of several mountains surrounding Banff, which, itself, is located at an elevation of 4,537 feet.

Banff is a very walkable town with its share of souvenir shops, bike and ski rental businesses, and restaurants (even McDonald's) interspersed among the high-end retail boutiques.

Cascade Mountain (9,836 feet) presents an imposing presence, as it seems to prevent any access to or egress from the town. It was named in 1858 by James Hector after the waterfall or cascade on the southern flanks of the peak, but I was trying to imagine how the mountains around Banff would look in the winter when ski runs covered portions of the almost 8,000 acres of skiable terrain.

A third major mountain, Sulphur Mountain (elevation 7,484 feet) seemed to serve as a wall at the southern edge of the town.

We had just come through the prairie of Montana and southern Alberta and had been enthralled with the Big Sky Country, but the majestic Canadian Rockies presented an entirely different king of attraction for us.

The weather was sunny with big puffy clouds and about 75 degrees.

As it turned out, we had chosen the perfect day to make the trip into Banff--the town and the park--because the next four days were overcast and rainy.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Banff's Other Lake

We left Lake Louise, convinced that we had been privileged to observe some of Nature's most beautiful scenery.

The day's trip had been worth the drive--and it wasn't even noon yet.

We headed toward Banff, but after only a few miles, we saw the turn for Moraine Lake. Since we had plenty of time, we took the road that we thought was less traveled.

Well, at the end of that road, on our right, above Moraine Lake Lodge, was Mt. Temple, the third highest peak (11,636 feet) in Banff National Park.

Directly in front of us were some of the peaks in the Valley of the Ten Peaks (the series of ten mountain peaks that runs from the edge of the lake along the left side of the entire valley).

And at the base of those mountains was the lesser-known, but equally beautiful, lake in the Park--Moraine Lake.

This Lake has the most vivid turquoise imaginable, which is caused by fine particles of glacial silt, or till, known as rock flour.

Moraine Lake was named by Walter Wilcox on the assumption that it was dammed by a glacial moraine (a deposit of earth and stones that is carried by a glacier) left from the retreating Wenkchemna Glacier.

The lake's name is particularly appropriate because it is glacially fed, and the sediment and minerals give it its distinctive color.

Just to the left of this array of logs was a huge pile of large rocks. At the time, I didn't realize the significance of this rockpile, so I have no photo of it; but it now appears that this rockpile damming the lake is a result of a rockslide off Mount Babel rather than a glacially-formed moraine.

Looking from the Rockpile reveals the same view--the lake encircled by mountains--that was on the back of Canada’s old $20 bill.

So with that type of recognition and with these magnificent views, it is hard to describe Moraine Lake as the lesser-known lake in the park.

We caught a glimpse of this golden-mantled ground squirrel nibbling on something.

We resumed our drive to Banff for lunch with these views along the route being added to the memories of scenes from Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and the mountains of Banff National Park.

We saw about six of these innovative overpasses along our drive to Banff--innovative in that they effectively provide safe routes that animals can use to cross the highway. Fences line the highway between these overpasses.

(Reminder: You can double click on any of the photos to enlarge the image.)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Canada's "Diamond in the Wilderness"

When we made plans to spend some time in Canada this summer, Banff and Lake Louise were at the top of our list of places to tour.

We left early for the 30-mile drive from our camp-ground in Cochrane, Alberta. We traveled past the exit for Banff, wanting to get to Lake Louise, the other attraction in Banff National Park, as early as possible.

The majesty of the Canadian Rockies on the forty-minute drive from Banff provided a stunning indication of what was to come.

A short walk from the parking lot to the Lake took us through this wooded area.

Being greeted with this view of the lake, it was clear how Lake Louise has come to be known as Canada's "Diamond in the Wilderness."

We each must have take a dozen photos near this spot before moving around the lake.

The Victoria Glacier provided the perfect background for the blue-green waters of the lake.

The pair of canoeists are dwarfed by the surrounding mountains, but the serene scene is very appealing.

An equally attractive view--though maybe not as colorful--is provided by the wooded mountains surrounding the lake.

To add to Nature's beauty, a canoe rental kiosk added several red canoes to the views of the lake. The pair of empty canoes shown here not only added a dash of color but raised a question about the circumstances surrounding their position.

People in a canoe can create a more interesting picture as they create different compositons while paddling around the lake.

But these red canoes create their own beautiful scenes without the aid of any people.

We each must have taken several photos of these soon-to-be-rented canoes.

A photog-rapher was giving instructions for different arrange-ments of the members of this group. For this photo, they were told to face away from the camera and raise their hands with two fingers showing on one hand and four on the other. (I don't know why.)

After this photo, the group headed to the canoe rental office.

After nearly two hours of admiring and photographing the beauty of Lake Louise--and after graciously filling the requests of other travelers to take their twosome and group photographs--we headed toward The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. At a small footbridge, we paused for one last photograph of the lake from this position.

The colors of the bicycles against the fence just seemed to call out to be photo-graphed. (At least that's what I think I heard.)

The Fairmont Chateau also seemed to blend perfectly with the lake and mountains.

We had one more stop to make before heading to Banff.

All this beautiful scenery in one place--and still more to come.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

To Banff

"The long green and gold lines of the prairie rise gently through the foothills into the majestic Canadian Rockies in this cross-province tour. There is no better way to experience the unbridled beauty of Alberta than by driving the Trans-Canada Highway, east to west, across the province."

So read one of the web pages describing Highway 1 through the province of Alberta.

We recently traveled a portion of this Highway--from our campground in Cochrane to Banff. The drive seemed to be one of the shortest 60-mile distances we've covered. Around every curve was another striking view of the majestic Canadian Rockies.

This section of Highway 1 has also been described as one of "the most splendid and enjoyable drives in all of western Canada."

I don't know what else to say, so I'll just show some of the scenes along the route, often called the Banff Highway.

Banff is situated inside the Banff National Park, so we had to purchase a national park pass to visit the city itself--and Lake Louise and Moraine Lake