Day 1-Off to Calgary

As our good friends know, we try and get out of the US for all the major holidays. And since we can’t bug Bob and Judy every time we try to get off on our own on the 4th each year. In 2010 with a plethora of Alaska Airline miles we decided to spend a few of them and head to someplace we had never seen---Calgary. Which would also include Banff and Lake Louise.

We were smart enough to make sure we didn’t try to go during the infamous Calgary Stampede. That actually started on the Saturday after we came home. In our case we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

We were on the 10:45 AM flight on Horizon Air (Alaska Airlines commuter arm) from Seattle to Calgary and of course it was late. We sat and we sat and we sat (my butt still hurts) and finally got on around noon and into Calgary about two hours late (which we later learned was par for the course on Horizon). Horizon is not my favorite airline. That’s mostly because of aversion to small planes that bounce a bunch and have no leg room. Horizon flies mostly little planes (two seats on each side of the aisle) and those are not my favorite. Thankfully they only fly them on short flights. Still, this is probably my last flight on Horizon (even though on the way back we had two great, musical flight attendants).

When we arrived in Calgary we were amazed at how far you had to walk from the plane in order to get to Canadian customs at the airport. I think we could have just saved ourselves the flight and walked from Seattle. It seemed like it was about that far. Might have been quicker to walk too.

When we finally got out of the airport we made our way to Avis (they really didn’t try that hard on this day) where we got our Chevrolet Impala (what a gutless piece of you know-what) and headed into downtown.

We had reserved rooms on Hotwire at a 4-star hotel in downtown Calgary (sight unseen) and were able to snag a really nice room at the Westin for under $125 a night. It is very centrally located and a nice place.

Since we had arrived at almost dinner time we took a short walk around downtown to buy postcards (we are really good at sending postcards) and see some sights before we headed off to dinner. Downtown Calgary is home to an eclectic mix of architecture and street art. Lots of great sculptures and some wonderful buildings both new and old.

After 45 minutes of walking downtown we jumped back in the car and headed out to dinner. We had read on the Trip Advisor website about what sounded like a wonderful Greek restaurant, Calypso’s Greek Taverna. It was the second highest rated restaurant in all of Calgary so since my favorite kind of food is Greek we just had to try it. Wish we hadn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, it was OK. But just OK. On Trip Advisor the reviewers had
gone on and on about how great the food was. Apparently those reviewers were not gourmets when it comes to Greek food. Having eaten Greek in Greece as well as Seattle and other cities around the world, I can tell you this was not great Greek food. The service was wonderful but the food only so-so. I had the stuffed calamari (see it at right) and Kathleen had the lamb chops. We can’t recommend either. But we can recommend the desserts which were excellent. Delicious baklava and something called Bougatsa. Both were great.

Day 2-Exploring Banff and Lake Louise

The next morning we were up and off to Banff and Lake Louise as soon as we did Starbucks for breakfast (nice of them to have one in the hotel for us Seattle coffee-lovers). Not only that, they had free WiFi so while we got our fix of caffeine we got our internet fix as well.

It’s about 90 minutes on Canada Hwy. 1 from Calgary to Banff and the drive is very scenic. First you go through miles and miles of beautiful open spaces that let you know that parts of Alberta are like Montana---home of the BIG SKY.

After about an hour the highway actually comes to a complete stop so you can pay to enter Banff National Park. It’s $19 a car load and worth every penny. About 20 minutes later we were in the village of Lake Louise. We stopped there for a quick stop at the visitor center. On our previous frequent trips to Canada we found that they have the BEST visitor centers. Great washrooms (not restrooms) and superb exhibits and info services. And the people that work there are always helpful. After a quick look we headed up to Lake Louise and spent a good hour walking around and snapping pics. If you click on the Photos link at top you can see some them.

After walking around we were getting hungry for lunch so we looked at the restaurant at the Lodge and decided that no matter how good the food was, it wasn’t probably equal to the prices which are inflated to charge you for the incredible view. So we headed back into the village and grabbed a sandwich and a cookie at the small deli. Then it was off to Moraine Lake. My good buddy MIke had sent me a picture of that lake from his calendar the day before we left and if he hadn’t we might have skipped it and we sure are glad we didn’t. It was another wonderful alpine lake. Just beautiful with green water (created by the mineral runoff produced by the glaciers above the lakes.

After seeing this lake we took our time going back by driving Hwy. 1A which was the original Bow Valley highway between Lake Louise and Banff.
One of the highlights of taking this route was coming around a corner and seeing a large ram eating what must have been a very sweet weed on the side of the road. We stopped and took pics of him (he was within three feet of the car) and he never budged.

The village of Banff was a disappointment as it was your typical, crowded and congested alpine tourist town. Way too many tacky tourist shops and the traffic was horrendous so we stayed for a quick walk (about an hour) and got out of town and headed back to Calgary.

That night we had reservations we had made at the Redwater Rustic Grille in downtown Calgary and folks, this is where you want to eat. Incredible food and wonderful service from our waiter, Jonny. We had found out about this place from where I make a bunch of reservations. OpenTable lists Tilth as the best restaurant in Seattle and Redwater as one of the best in Calgary and they got both of those exactly right. We split an outstanding salad and then had one of the best entrees I have ever had.
A flat iron bison steak accompanied by beets and potatoes with an ancho bbq sauce. Kathleen had the same thing but with green peppercorn sauce and accompanied by a couscous risotto and broccolini. I won this one and we finished off this fantastic meal by splitting a fantastic lemon dessert. All in all a great meal. After another walk around downtown it was back to the hotel and bed.

Day 3-Hanging out in Calgary

The rest of our trip was pretty uneventful. After another caffeine and web fix at Starbucks we took a long walk through Prince Island Park, then a car trip to the Calgary Farmer’s market (we love Farmer’s Markets) and searched for a great view where I could get a good shot of downtown Calgary (which we found) and then back to the hotel, out to dinner and off to bed.

The trip home was uneventful as well. We left on time, had a singing flight attendant and made our way home.

We probably would not go back to Calgary as we feel like we have seen about all there is to see unless we were to go for the Stampede but since we are not big fans of crowds that probably won’t happen. It made a great three day weekend getaway. We recommend it.


Lakes and Cowboys

Great times in and around Calgary. At left we pose at Lake Louise. At right, reflections in downtown Calgary, the Calgary Tower, our self portrait at Moraine Lake and the lake itself.