We’ve spent the last few days at the Fairmont Banff Springs, a colossal old-line hotel that sits on a bluff above the Bow River.
It’s one of those sprawling complexes that is a bit of a maze — and at the same time full of surprises as you wander around trying to get your bearings. One day I was trying to figure out my route to the conference center for a meeting when I ended up in a room where a woman in medieval garb plucked away at a full-sized harp while two guys played pool. When I apparently looked quite lost, she stopped her playing and helped to get me back on track. And there appear to be different restaurants, shops and bars on every level, as well as meetings rooms galore.
We’ve enjoyed our stay in this beautiful part of the world. How could you not like a hotel with a patio that offers a jaw-dropping view like the one below?
Yesterday we took the gondola up to the top of Sulphur Mountain, which overlooks the town of Banff. Sulphur Mountain is one of the minor peaks in the Rockies range, but it offers a commanding view of the surrounding countryside and allows you to see for miles. In the photo above, you can parts of Banff and the winding Bow River appear far below.
The gondola is a four-seater that takes you directly up the mountainside and offers its own cool views. Bring an extra layer or two of clothing, because it’s cold at the top. Even though yesterday was technically the first day of summer, we were greeted by snowflakes and a howling wind that made me wish I’d brought gloves and a ski cap. I’d guess the temperature up top was below 40 degrees, and the wind chill was below that.
When you reach the top of Mount Sulphur you can admire the views from inside the building while nursing the beverage of your choice, you can walk around the building on an observation deck, or you can follow a wooden walkway to what appears to be a weather station at the summit of the mountain some distance away. (You can see part of the walkway in the photo below.) I chose the latter option, which exposed me to even fiercer winds but rewarded me with the best views of all and allowed me to get some exercise, besides. Still, I was glad to get back to the warmth of the building.
Yesterday we crossed the Canadian Rockies on the second day of our two-day excursion on the Rocky Mountaineer. It was a day of rugged landscape, plunging gorges, swiftly tumbling rivers, and a mountain goat or two. And, for those of us who appreciate deft feats of engineering, a bridge far above a river, shown below, and a cool set of tunnels that spiral the train upward through the interior of the mountains at a gentle grade and bring you out so you can see where you started.
On the Rocky Mountaineer you can sit in you seat and watch the scenery through a bubble window that allows you to see everything from waist level to directly overhead, or by standing out on a platform to get a more immediate sense for the countryside. I preferred the latter option, the better to gulp down lungfuls of the brisk, pine-scented air and feel the breeze on your face. It’s an exhilarating experience to be out among so many trees pumping out so much oxygen.
By the time we rolled into the station at Banff, the weather had turned foul, but the rain couldn’t dim the experience. The Rocky Mountaineer is a bucket list item worth doing.
We’re in Vancouver, getting ready to board the Rocky Mountaineer train on the Canadian rail system. It runs over the Canadian Rockies to Banff and points west.
The Rocky Mountaineer does things with a nice touch of class. We were greeting by a guy playing Beatles music on a baby grand when we entered the terminal, got complimentary coffee and juice, and were piped aboard the train by a bagpiper in full Scottish regalia. Now we’ve been given a “sunrise toast” with orange juice and bubbly to start our journey.
We’re in the top floor of a two-story train with more window glass than you can possibly imagine — the better to gawk as the landscape rolls by. The scenery is supposed to be spectacular, and we’re eager for our trip to begin.