Waking up before even the most self respecting sparrow would break wind, the whatever time difference between the Rockies and London working is oracle on me, I had time to kill. I have to admire my wife and children’s ability to sleep until whatever passes as breakfast time wherever we are staying. So I browsed the literature in the hotel. One thing struck me: Banff and London might be distant cousins on the Longitudinal family tree, but they’re as one when lines of Latitude were being handed out. Yet here, the winters are cold enough to freeze a witch’s nipples whereas in London we do a smattering of slush with the same regularity that someone brings out a decent Christmas single. Other oddities were that Moscow parallels with Glasgow, which maybe isn’t so strange. Eventually I went hunting for a cup of tea and…
Now here’s the thing. What is it with the continental land mass that comprises the US and Canada that they are incapable of sourcing tea leaves that generate a decent cup? Is it some sort of post-colonial, let’s-channel-our-inner-Boston-harbour schtick/snub, given the British are fuelled by tea and an overweening belief that someone has to be the adult around here? Anyway the pisswater that manages to be wrung from a yellow label Lipton’s tea bag was proffered and I did my best to look delighted as I inquired about fixing my ruined tyre.
There was something about the Canadian accent around here that I found charming. Not exactly mellifluous but soothing in a ‘would you like your toes massaged, sir?’ kind of way. No, as it happens, I hate that, but it’s nice of you to ask. Meanwhile the hotel informed me that the local branch of Avis, our car hire company, would be providing a spare vehicle so our day wouldn’t be impacted. They would deliver said car, take possession of our ‘one wheel on your wagon’ jalopy and sort things out, returning said vehicle in the afternoon. Let’s hope so.
Once the motley crew where up, breakfasted – memory says pancakes and maple syrup which would, perhaps be appropriate – I laid out the itinerary for day one. The Son had decided there was one cultural essential that we needed to focus on during our trip; we waited to be informed how this would affect our plans.
‘We need to find some poutine.’
I looked at the Textiliste who appeared equally bemused.
He decided to put us out of our ignorance. ‘It’s Canadian for kebab.’
Yep, we were none the wiser so he decided to treat us gently, and explained, with the Daughter nodding along. It appeared that at University both of them had Canadian friends and/or British friends who’d ‘done’ Canada. In discussion it had been become apparent that Canadians of their vintage, having had a night of excess would be equally attacked by the munchies. Whereas, in our day that might have led to a bag of chips (fries) or a dripping-in-grease spring roll, for our offspring the greasy carb-hit of choice was the kebab. In Canadia it was poutine. For my non Canadian readers who may not have experienced this culinary marvel, it comprises fries (so far, so British), gravy (that too could fit certain parts of these Benighted Isles) and squeaky or curd cheese.
Naturally both the Textiliste and I wondered (a) whether these really were our children and (b) how long before the pressure to source authentic poutine became unstoppable. I gave it until lunch.
Before we needed to decide, we were picked up by a guide. There are pros and cons to paying for a guide or doing ones own thing. On the one had, freedom of choice means you can do as much or as little as you want; on the other you often miss out, especially if, as here there was a lot to pack in and little time to do it.
Hence the guide, especially on day one. We piled into the transport and met Anika, a French Canadian from Montreal who was said guide. I wondered how long it would be before I made some disparaging comment about the French, scoffed at De Gaulle and his Vivre Quebec Libre and was sent to the back of the bus to think about the meaning of international co-operation. In fact, the Textiliste made it clear that, while I might consider myself to be a humourist and wag, today, if I didn’t mind, could I please shove my attempts to lighten the atmosphere? I mean, am I really that bad? Sadly the children sided with their mother. Turncoats.
Anika was delightful, informative and helpful. The plan was to drive to Lake Louise and hike up to the glacier, before lunch. This would be taken at the Six Glaciers tea house. Getting there was eye opening. ‘Scotland on steroids’ one of the family said and, yes, you could make that case. The mountainous backdrop, just cruising along the highway was spectacular. We’d not appreciated it the night before when we arrived but now, firmly ensconced in the Banff national Park it was all around us. I was becoming inspired to write a poem…
‘Can I get poutine for lunch?’
‘Not really. The tea hut isn’t likely…’
‘The guidebook says we start by a hotel?’
‘The Fairmont. It’s a famous Chateau. I doubt it will serve poutine.’ Pause. ‘Or the sort you’re after.’
The Lad was disappointed, though his chance would come. More to the point, my muse had gone to sulk, swamped by images of soggy chips. We moved on in more sombre mood.
The hike was twelve kilometres. I loved it as the grin in the photos suggests. I wrote this in my journal…
‘I’m sitting in the sun at the Six Glaciers tea house waiting for the next CRACK-BOOM of an avalanche spying on the curious chipmunks as they forage amongst the detritus of picnicery. Our Lake Louise tour – a 12 km hike up towards the every receding glacier is delightful. The famous lake with the Chateau at the far, bottom end is fabulously beautiful – a milky turquoise meltwater fed through glacier rock flow of much depleted ice. Now above 6000ft we catch our breath and prepare to descend. One disappointment? No sign of bears, but, for now the chipmunks will do well enough.
I’d never seen glacial melt water before this, that turquoise opalescence is unique to glaciers with the rock flour causing sunlight refraction (I think I was paying attention). I remember standing by the edge of the lake, transfixed. If I see nothing else new this holiday, I thought, then Canada has done me proud.
In fact, I had more to enjoy later that day…