Do you remember when I said, “(Thankfully, that was not the case when we returned two days later! Stay tuned…)?” That followed my comment about the gloomy and cold (36 F) weather at Columbia Icefields. The weather changed dramatically, and we had our prettiest and warmest day yet.
(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)
We first stopped at Sunwapta Falls for an up-close look. The thunderous sound of the rushing water was mesmerizing; I could have taken a glorious nap there with the falls as sleep-inducing white noise!
Next stop was back at the Columbia Icefields base station to catch our shuttle bus to Glacier Skywalk. If there was any day to do it, this was the day. The sun was shining bright, there were beautiful white clouds in the sky, and my jacket came off to enjoy the comfortable 75-degree temperature.
I was amazed by the construction of this award-winning architectural marvel; however, I was too distracted by the fantastic views to get too caught up reading the information displays. Just look at what you can see out in the distance—and, 1,000 feet below my foot!
For lunch, we had a relaxing riverside picnic while we enjoyed lovely scenery.
Our next stop was a hiking trail looking down at glacier-fed Peyto Lake. The views were magnificent!
Meanwhile, the drive between each stop along Columbia Icefields Parkway was stunning—so much prettier than two days prior! Unfortunately, bugs on the bus windshield ruined what would have been some nice shots, but here they are anyway:
Before heading into the town of Banff, we were able to get a fabulous view of the town from above—a perfect backdrop for our group photo.
Our spectacular day concluded at the Rim Rock Resort where we stayed for our final two nights. Set amidst pine forests on the side of a mountain, the setting provided scenic views of the surrounding mountains.
Dinner was in small groups at the hotel’s Primroserestaurant where Bruce and I both ordered salmon to end our streak. What a lovely way to end one of the best days of our tour!
Located 27 miles from the town of Jasper, Maligne Lake was our afternoon destination, after having the morning free to explore Jasper on our own. On the way to the lake, we learned about the devastating pine beetle that has destroyed 30% of the trees in Jasper. There was also a Class 6 (of a possible 6) fire in 2015 that caused even more destruction of the forest, and we saw plenty of evidence on each side of the road that ends at the lake. Several park staff and tourists were trapped when the fire started, but were airlifted out by a helicopter.
The fourteen-mile-long lake at an elevation of 5,500 feet is a deep one—318 feet at its deepest point; and, it has that gorgeous water like the other glacier-fed lakes we had visited. At an average water temperature of 40 degrees, it is quite frigid; however, the air temperatures drop a lot further than that in the winter. The coldest air temperature ever recorded there was -58 degrees Fahrenheit!
The day was mostly cloudy, so the views during our boat tour of the lake were not as spectacular as we had hoped, especially considering that it is rated the most beautiful boat tour in Canada. Still, the scenery was amazing! And, we were able to see all three glaciers as well as Spirit Island, considered one of the most beautiful and photographed locations in all of Canada.
(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)
Indigenous people of the area date back 18,000 years, and tiny Spirit Island is sacred to the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, who believe mountains are physical representations of their ancestors. The fact that Spirit Island is surrounded on three sides by the same mountain range is very rare and makes it particularly significant to the Stoney. They conduct healing ceremonies on the island, and it is considered an honor to be invited to attend, if you are not a Stoney Indian.
Access to the island is extremely limited due to its geography—14 kilometers (nearly 9 miles) from the docks at Home Bay. It is hard to get to—paddling on your own can take four hours each way, so most tourists book a boat tour that stops at the island.
It was interesting to see how the water changed to a more emerald color, the further south we traveled, and the closer we got to Spirit Island. This was due to the presence of rock flourfrom the glaciers.
Adjacent to Spirit Island was a dock for boat tour guests to disembark at and walk a short trail to see and photograph the island from different viewpoints.
Following our cruise, we hiked around Maligne Canyon, a magnificent 160-feet deep slot limestone canyon that is only six feet wide at its narrowest point. Maligne Riverflows out of Medicine Lake, and then drops down the canyon. It is constantly being eroded by the churning and swirling of the water, and the resulting limestone formations were fascinating—and, photogenic.
On the way back to town, we finally saw some photogenic elk (WILDLIFE!) beside the highway:
Speaking of photogenic, how do you like this view from the rooftop terrace at Jasper Pizza Place? I don’t remember ever enjoying a pizza with a view quite like that! What a beautiful way to end the day.
Next up:Glacier Skywalk and Lower Banff National Park
One of the things Bruce and I enjoyed on the small group tour we did to Slovenia and Croatia with Vantage Travel, and this tour with Odysseys Unlimited, is the flexibility to go off on our own at each destination. We were given a deadline to be back at the bus, but how we spent our time was an individual choice. Our guide would give us all the information we needed and wanted on the bus ride to each location. For those who wanted to stay with the guide, that option was available as well.
(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)
At Lake Louise, we opted to walk the recommended lakeside path; however, some members of our group hiked on alternate trails or visited the hotel. It was a beautiful, calm morning, so the reflections in the emerald green water were breathtaking throughout our walk!
We were thankful the blue skies stayed with us for our drive along Columbia Icefields Parkway to our next destination: Athabasca Glacier. The parkway was one of the prettiest I had seen, and I ended up snapping quite a few pictures out the bus window along the way:
Unfortunately, by the time we arrived at the glacier, it was a bit cloudy, windy, and a chilly 36 degrees at that high elevation. It was not a good day for photography, because the white ice of the glacier blended in with the white clouds for a very flat appearance. (Thankfully, that was not the case when we returned two days later! Stay tuned…)
The Columbia Icefield, in Banff National Park, is a UNESCO site. At an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet, this 125-square mile tract of snow and ice is the largest ice field in the Rocky Mountains. It also marks a triple Continental Divide point—meaning waters originating from the 23 feet average annual snowfall ultimately flow into the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans.
An Ice Explorer all-terrain vehicle transported our group to Athabasca Glacier—the most visited glacier in North America. Equipped to drive right onto the glacier itself, the vehicle has 5-1/2-feet-tall tires especially designed for glacier travel. Each one of these super-sized tires costs $6,000! The vehicles were originally purchased for $500,000 each; however, when they were due for refurbishing, $750,000 was spent on each vehicle, for a total investment of 1.25 million for each Ice Explorer.
Walking on the glacier was slippery and cold, but it was an awesome sight!
Following our buffet lunch back at the base station, we stopped for a hike at Athabasca Falls and River after passing by this waterfall:
This was our longest travel day, a journey taking us from the U.S. back into Canada to visit Banff National Park. I’m not a fan of long bus rides, but the scenery was stunning. Entering Canada required stopping at their border patrol station to have our passports processed. Although Canada had dropped its mandatory Covid testing for everybody entering their country, a random testing policy was implemented, resulting in one of every 8 travelers being required to take a self-administered Covid test and send it via FedEx to the processing center.
Before crossing the border, we stopped for a restroom break at a duty-free store with this banner greeting us at the door:
At the station, three members of our group were selected; however, it was a Saturday. They had 72 hours to self-administer and FedEx the tests back, so our guide figured he would hold off sending them in until we got to Jasper, on Monday. Since the backlog for processing tests had reached 4-7 days, (and it had taken almost a week for others in our group to get their results back after entering Calgary at the beginning of the tour), I shook my head as I did the math. It was August 27th, and our trip was scheduled to conclude on September 1. The tests weren’t going to be turned in until August 29, and they would take one business day to arrive at their destination. The guys would be home in the U.S.A. before receiving their test results! What the…? If they had tested positive, they would have already spread Covid to a bunch of people! What’s the point? We all had a good laugh about that, but what a waste of resources!
Onward we traveled along Canada’s western edge of the Canadian Rockies, entering Banff National Park. Along the way, we noticed that all of the road signs in the park were in English and French, a federal law.
The original itinerary stated that we would check into our hotel late in the afternoon, and then go for a walk at Lake Louise; however, our guide, Scott, and driver, David, had another idea in mind. Since we were going to see Lake Louise the following morning anyway, how about trying our luck at getting into the parking lot at Moraine Lake before continuing on to the hotel? Scott explained that the car parking lot would already be full, but since we were in a bus, we would possibly have a shot at getting into the bus parking lot. Besides, Lake Louise, originally named the “Emerald Lake” was green, and seeing Moraine Lake would give us an opportunity to see an azure blue lake. Were we game? We voted unanimously in favor.
The day had been gloomy, and when we arrived, we couldn’t even see the ten mountain peaks surrounding the lake, due to the cloud cover. We made it into the lot, though, so at least we could see some bright blue water. Good enough for me; blue is my favorite color!
To get the best view of the lake, Scott suggested climbing the 79 feet up the “Rock Pile,” a popular hiking trail leading to one of the most photographed locations in all of Canada. I bolted up ahead of everybody in the group, so I would have the most time to spend up at the top. I anticipated the clouds hiding all ten peaks in the distance, but seeing the lake was better than nothing. Surely, it would be beautiful and photogenic, regardless.
Just as we made it the top, the sun broke through for a spectacular view! A few of the ten peaks appeared just in time for our arrival, and the brilliant blue water of the glacially fed lake shined.
(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)
Until I saw the lake with my own eyes, I thought the pictures I had seen of the lake were Photoshop-ped to-the-max. No way could that water be such a bright shade of blue! I was wrong; it really is that blue!
Rock flour is what causes Moraine Lake’s water to be so blue, and Lake Louise to be that pretty shade of emerald green. Also known as “glacial flour,” it consists of fine-grained, silt-sized particles of rock caused by glacial erosion. The super-fine consistency becomes suspended in the melted snow and ice, causing the water run-off to appear cloudy.
We were all in awe and snapped a bunch of pictures, along with the other tourists. This was definitely the highlight place for a photo with Bruce; I always make sure to get one from each trip.
The nine-mile bus ride to Lake Louise Village, was buzzing with chatter about what we had just seen. We all agreed the climb up the Rock Pile was well worth it!
Back down at 5,200 feet, we arrived at the village of Lake Louise, Canada’s highest community. After checking into our room at Lake Louise Inn, I braved the cold air and biting wind for a look around the village and a walk along the river, while Bruce rested. Beautiful!
Except for this day during our cruise of St. Mary Lake, it was amazing how the sun came out during the best possible time during our sightseeing throughout our travels. Mother Nature worked her magic the previous day when we were enjoying the views of Waterton Lake from the Prince of Wales Hotel. As the afternoon progressed, the clouds enveloped the area when it no longer mattered. The same thing happened as our tour through the Canadian Rockies progressed, and we were amazed at the timing of the weather changes—all in our favor!
(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)
Located on the eastern side of Glacier National Park, St. Mary Lake is about ten miles long. Taking a narrated cruise was a wonderful way to see it and learn about the area. It was breathtaking to be surrounded by the steep mountains that began forming 170 million years ago, and to be on one of the park’s more than 130 named lakes. In all, the park encompasses more than 1 million acres!
I never saw Stanley Kubricks film, The Shining, but the opening scene was filmed at the lake. Scott showed us the beginning of the movie, so we could see the lake from a different perspective. Of course, the weather was perfect when they filmed the movie, but the low-hanging clouds did add drama to the gloom we experienced.
Halfway through the cruise, we docked for a short hike to see a beautiful waterfall:
During the afternoon, we headed out to Many Glacier Hotel, located in the northeastern area of Glacier National Park. Built by the Great Northern Railway in 1914-15, the hotel is situated overlooking Swiftcurrent Lake. The area is known as “Switzerland of North America,” and it was beautiful! A hiking path circles the lake with great views of Many Glacier, the lake, and the hotel. If you are lucky enough, you will also see a lot of wildlife. Along with Linda, one of the other group members, we hiked ahead at a faster pace and just caught a glimpse of a female moose with her baby as they ran across our path and headed into the woods. I tried to capture a photo, but all I got was a blurry shot of Mom and the butt of her baby. It all happened so quick! As it turned out, that was our only moose sighting of the trip; and, other than elk, we never saw any other large animals, such as bears or mountain goats. It became a joke with our group as Scott’s confidence in seeing wildlife resulted in spotting nothing but small rodents. That was where our luck ended…
I thoroughly enjoyed all of our walks and hikes, though, and savored the fresh air and gorgeous (“gowajus”) sites. (That was another joke with the group. Linda, her friend, Wanda, and their husbands were from New Jersey; so, Scott playfully poked fun at their accent with his Kiwi/Australian/Canadian/British accent—a melting pot of some of the places he had lived since leaving New Zealand at the age of 19.) We laughed a lot on this trip!
The evening was spent back at St. Mary Village where Bruce and I thoroughly enjoyed using our dinner vouchers for a repeat of the night before, except for a change in Sweet Peaks ice cream flavors. We even had the same nice waitress!
Next up: Riding the Red Jammers along Going-to-the-Sun Road
Bruce and I headed back up north again, this time on a small group land tour of Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies. We had never done a 100% land-based tour, and it was our first time traveling withOdysseys Unlimited, a company that specializes in small group tours of 12-24 people. Like everything else in travel this year, the tour was sold out, and 24 is the largest group size we would travel with in the future. Fortunately, we had a good group, though. Everybody was punctual; and, amazingly, nobody even caught so much as a cold. We returned home from our 11-day trip on September 1, and we are happily Covid-free.
Let’s get the trip review out of the way first, so I can move on to what I like sharing the most. Would I travel with Odysseys Unlimited again? Absolutely! The tour was excellent, and our tour director, Scott Robertson, did a fabulous job. Buyer beware, though: The Covid-19 policy in place when you book (and pay for) the trip may not be the same by the time the trip actually occurs. We booked with Odyssey expecting mandatory masking on the bus (as stated in their policy); however, Canada dropped that policy right before we arrived, so it was dropped for our tour. The majority of our group still masked; however, some did not. As a result, us maskers tended to gravitate towards each other during group dinners whenever possible.
Having said that, I’m sure glad we booked a group tour and paid for it before the prices went up! The prices of everything up there has skyrocketed, so we would have probably paid more for the trip had we done the exact same things on our own. In addition, when car parking lots were full at the highlight spots, our bus/ “motor coach” was able to drive right on in to the separate bus parking area without a problem.
Otherwise, my only other recommendation would be to avoid flying with Air Canada if at all possible. Ranked as one of the worst airlines in the world, they lived up (or down) to that reputation. Our flight to Calgary was canceled, and we ended up arriving seven hours later than we were originally scheduled, missing our only day in Calgary. The silver lining was being re-booked on Delta Airlines and through Minneapolis rather than Toronto. Our experience flying home on Air Canada reminded me of uncomfortable past flights on old United Airlines planes with cramped seats, and that’s not saying much.
Now that I have the negativity out of the way, it’s all positive from here on out.
Since Bruce and I arrived at the Hyatt in Calgary too late to join the group for the welcome dinner, we didn’t meet everybody until the following day when we set off for Glacier National Park. As it turned out, at 60, I was the youngest of the group by ten years; however, most of the group were active enough to handle the walks and hikes.
Before our lunch stop at Waterton Lake, a UNESCO World Heritage Sitewhich adjoins Montana’s Glacier National Park, we took in the views from the Prince of Wales Hotel. The wood structure was built in 1927 and perched high above the lake. Thankfully, it survived a fire in 2017, because it is a beautiful hotel with spectacular panorama views!
(For all pictures in my blogs, click on the image to see full screen view.)
Our group lunch was in town, followed by enough free time on our own to walk to Cameron Falls, see the town, and walk along the lakefront. This was the first of many beautiful waterfalls and lakes we enjoyed during the trip, and my first opportunity to test out my hip after having a second surgery on it last spring (the first was in 2014). SUCCESS! Eleven days of hiking and a lot of walking with zero pain. Thanks, Dr. Andrachuk!
After crossing the 49th parallel into Montana, we arrived at St. Mary Village, our base for two nights. This is where we had the gloomiest weather; however, it rained while we were enjoying our dinner, and then stopped before we left the hotel’s restaurant and were greeted with this:
We saw both ends of the rainbow, but just missed seeing the middle, due to the cloud cover. Scott happened to capture the rainbow in its entirety on his phone and was nice enough to share it with the group:
What an amazing first night in the Rockies! That beautiful sight followed what proved to be a big surprise for dinner. Our voucher covered a three-course limited-menu dinner at the hotel’s Snowgoose Grill, which was fabulous, even though it is rated only 3.5 of 5 on Trip Advisor. I should have photographed the massive and delicious marinated strawberry, goat cheese, and candied pecan salad that was served on a bed of mixed greens. It was as large as a main course salad I would order in a restaurant for lunch. Bruce’s soup was tasty! We both ordered salmon, which we ended up choosing for our main course every night, when dinner was included during the tour. Fabulous! When dessert arrived, I had to break out the camera for this giant-sized brownie and Bruce’s apple crumble withhuckleberry sauce, both served with delicious Sweet Peaks Montana ice cream. How we made room for it, I’ll never know…
Dinner also included any glass of wine or beer from the list, or a non-alcoholic drink. Bruce’s local huckleberry lemonade was awesome!
We didn’t expect this, that’s for sure. As (mostly) non-meat eaters in beef and buffalo country, we were prepared for 11 protein-craving days of “you’ll-have-nothing-and-like-it.” Oh boy, were we wrong about that!
Our upstairs room at the lodge had rustic mountain décor too cute not to make me laugh. The highlight, however, was the balcony looking out over the river flowing by. We kept our sliding glass door open until we got cold, so we could enjoy the mesmerizing and thoroughly relaxing sound of the water. Ahhh!
Next up: Glacier National Park: St. Mary Lake & Many Glacier
For my final post on Italy, we visit the historic town of Diamante, a small tourist town in the province of Cosenza that dates back thousands of years. Strategically located between the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas, it was an important trade point through history.
Today, the town of less than 6,000 people relies on fishing and agriculture as well as their main industry: tourism. The big tourist event of the year is the Chili Pepper Festival that takes place in early September each year and celebrates the locally-grown pepperoncino.
In addition to the Chili Pepper Festival, Diamante is known as the “City of Murals,” thanks to painter Nanni Razzetti who pitched his “Operazione Murales” idea to the city’s mayor in 1981 and won approval. That paved the way for established and emerging artists from all over to come to the town and paint murals on the city’s buildings. Each year, more murals are added, and there now more than 150 of them. I would have loved spending more time there and seeing them all, but we did discover several of the murals as we walked up and down the charming streets with narrow cobblestone walkways.
CLEVER!!! By the way, “Diamante” translates to “Diamond.”
Our journey home was much like our trip over to Italy, but in reverse. Instead of planes, trains, and automobiles, it began with returning our rental cars, and then taking a train back to Rome. The next day, we took a flight home.
Located near San Nicola Arcella (where we were staying) and along the Tyrrhenian Sea coast, the resort town of Scalea is a big draw for tourists. The old part of town on the hill has been inhabited since prehistoric times, but the lower business district dates back to World War II. As a result, it’s a strange mix.
I didn’t particularly care for the business district, which I found to be quite drab and nondescript. It didn’t have the charm of Maratea, and the shops weren’t particularly interesting. Just one block up the hill; however, was another story. More on that later…
At the far end of the beach, past the lidos, was a nice wading area in between the rocks in the shallow water that was perfect for those who wanted to play or take a dip and cool off. I opted, instead, to go for a swim along the sandy area of the beach. It was beautiful! At about 79 degrees with no current, it was a perfect beach to get in a good open-water swim.
There were also plenty of lidos along the beach of Scalea from which to choose for sunbathing or a beach side lunch. We followed our swim with a delicious lunch at a lido owned by friends of our friend.
On another day in Scalea, our group split up. The other gals went shopping, the guys took a drive to check out the view of old Scalea from other vantage points, and I went for a hike in the old town to explore and do photography.
The old town of Scalea is behind Bruce. Over his right shoulder are ruins dating back 1,000 years.
I was delighted (and excited!) that just one block up from the business district, the feel of Scalea completely changed as I climbed the hill. Asphalt and concrete gave way to ancient cobblestones. I was in my element, and I could feel my somewhat apathetic mood towards Scalea lift as I explored the narrow, winding walkways filled with homes that were built hundreds of years ago. Everywhere I turned, there was something unique to admire and photograph.
At the very top of the hill, there were ancient ruins that were just begging to be explored. I found a very narrow and steep pathway that required careful footing, but I was determined to hike up and take in the spectacular views of the old town and coastline below.
Other than the disappointment and disgust I felt at the sight of graffiti that had been carelessly painted on the ruins, the hike up was well worth the effort.
Soon, it was time to meet back up at Jeni’s, a restaurant owned by the good friend of our friend we were traveling with who had once lived in Scalea. Making my way back down the winding walkways, I realized I had put in a pretty good workout and was craving the chocolate gelato I would soon be enjoying.
Jeni makes the best gelato! She sources the best ingredients, including a high-quality single origin chocolate from Ecuador. Her gelato was dairy-free, but it still had a very creamy texture. It was pure heaven!
That’s Jeni, between me and Bruce.
If you are curious to see more of Scalea, the new James Bond movie is being filmed there.
My final post on Italy will be about Diamante. Stay tuned!
During our stay in San Nicola Arcella, the seven of us in our group hopped in our two rental cars (we were unable to get a hold of a rental van) and headed up to the old town of Maratea, in the province of Potenza, which is in the Basilicata region of Italy, along the Tyrrhenian coast.
Known as the “Pearl of the Tyrrhenian,” Maratea dates back to 15th – 14th century BC (based on archeological findings). That’s old!
It is old towns like Maratea that keep us returning to Europe, time and time again. There are always so many interesting things to see and photograph, and fun places to explore.
While the rest of the group relaxed in the plaza at a café with their coffee drinks and gelato, Bruce and I hiked up and down and all around, poking in and out of the twisting, narrow walkways. It was exhilarating!
Here, then, are scenes from the old town of Maratea:
Hey, Delta Airlines gang, how’s this for “Passport Plum”?
Or, how about this? David, your shorts are so well-coordinated!
When I first stepped out on Villa Crawford’s sundeck and took in the view of San Nicola Arcella’s coastline, all I could say was, “WOW!” It was absolutely gorgeous. Sure, I had seen pictures (like the ones below), but it wasn’t until I saw it in person that I could fully appreciate the beauty of the place.
I had hoped our visit in Italy would be part “swimcation” and part vacation; however, as I mentioned in my first post on Italy, the logistics didn’t allow for a daily morning swim. When I was able to get in a swim, though, it was fabulous! The water temperature was about 78 degrees—perfect competition temperature, and the water visibility was good.
My plan was to swim around the rocky point to see the Arco Magno rock formation and photograph it with my waterproof camera; however, the currents were too strong to risk it. Instead, I joined a gal from our group and hiked over to see it. The views back down to the beach and across the coastline were spectacular! For me, this was one of the highlights of the trip, and the most beautiful scenery of the area.
Our hike began by climbing the stairs all the way up to the top, and then back down the other side. The next two pictures were taken from the stairs. The orange and white umbrellas are at Lido Nettuno where our group relaxed in the shade.
Villa Crawford, our home away from home, was located on the hillside at the far end of the beach. Lido Nettuno is down below.
That’s Bruce (blue shirt) standing next to David (dark shirt), our friend who lived in the area for four years.
Darshana snapped this shot when I wasn’t looking!
If you plan a beach visit in the Calabria region of Italy when the air temperatures are warm, budget 10 Euro for an umbrella and lounge at one of the lidos that line the beachfront. Each lido has a café in back where you can grab some lunch and enjoy the breeze and views of the beach. If you choose to patronize a lido with a parking lot, they include free parking as well.
Our group enjoyed our time at Lido Nettuno and had lunch in their café. Check out their nifty cell phone charging station:
The best way to follow up a day at the beach is to enjoy a delicious Italian gelato. There is no shortage of gelaterias in Italy; they’re everywhere! We happened to stop at Dolce Vita for a scoop, and the chocolate that I savored was amazing—dark and rich. Yum!
Nutella is popular throughout Europe, so most of the gelaterias offer it as a topping on their gelato and waffles. I chose that option on a scoop of chocolate gelato at another gelateria one evening after dinner, and this is the huge jar they pumped it from:
The European Nutella is darker and tastier than the Canadian-made Nutella we get in the U.S.A., so I brought a jar back with me to enjoy at home. I’ll be sad when that’s gone!
In my next post, come along with me to the town of Maratea.