Not Third World

I disagree with Donald Trump about pretty much everything, but I think he’s right about one thing, at least:  many American airports are pretty crappy.  Describing them as “Third World” in quality may be unfairly insulting to our friends in the Third World.

You realize this when you leave the States.  Consider the Calgary airport, for example.  The E concourse looks newly built, and is spotlessly clean and spacious.  Compare it to, say, some of the cramped, beat-up, and overcrowded terminals at, say, LaGuardia, and you get the President’s point.  It’s sn embarrassing comparison.  We should be able to match our neighbors to the north in the airport department.

Maple Syrup, Anyone?

The duty-free shop at the Calgary International Airport features booze and the other items you awaits find in a duty-free shop . . . and maple syrup.  Lots of maple syrup.  Shelves full, and in decorative maple leaf bottles, too.  So much maple syrup, in fact, that they’re actually running a buy 3, get 1 free promotion.

So if you need four decorative bottles of maple syrup, perhaps because you want to clebrate Canada’s 150th birthday as you eat your pancakes, and don’t want to pay any duty on it, I know where you can go.

Or, you can pick up some Mrs. Butterworth’s in your local supermarket.

Fairmont Banff Springs

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?

Around Lake Louise

Yesterday we drove to Lake Louise, which is about an hour away from Banff via Canada highway 1, the Trans-Canada highway.  It’s a pleasant ride through more of the towering peaks of the Canadian Rockies.

One of the locals told us that Lake Louise is the most photographed place in Canada.  If that bit of local lore is true, it’s not hard to see why.  The water in the lake is a brilliant turquoise color, like you might find in the Caribbean, and the lake is surrounded by craggy mountains with glaciers at the far end.  It’s a fantastic, beautiful place.


We followed a walking path from the grounds of the Fairmont, which anchors one end of the lake, down toward the glaciers.  The trail runs for about a mile and a half along the rim of the lake.  We shared the path with lots of other gawkers and some trail riders.  


There is still snow melt running into the lake, and the water is icy cold.  At the far end, there is a beach and then the lake becomes a kind of marsh, with the glaciers hovering on the mountaintops far overhead.


I’m not ashamed to say that I took my share of pictures of this wondrous place.  I’ve helped to add even more credibility to that bit of local lore about Canada’s most photographed spot.

Over The Rockies

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.

New Mexico Up North

When I think of Canada, I don’t typically think of desert — but that’s exactly what the terrain turns into as you head east on the Rocky Mountaineer toward Kamloops, the town that is the destination after day one of the trip.  The locals call the climate “semi-arid,” but it sure seems to be full “arid” to me.  The area looks and feels like New Mexico or Arizona or other parts of the American southwest.  It’s hotter, and a lot drier, with brown-hued topography and scattered plants that resemble sagebrush.

It’s a pretty abrupt change from the farmland and piney forest views we saw during the first part of the trip.  According to our waiter — who seemed a lot more knowledgeable than your average waiter, by the way — it’s because the high Cascade mountains to the west and the equally high Rockies to the east create a climate condition called a “rain shadow,” in which lower, rain-carrying clouds can’t move past the mountain ranges.  Only high-altitude cirrus clouds that aren’t laden with moisture can scrape by.

Tomorrow we’ll move out of this hot zone and up and over the Rockies, but I’ll always remember this amazing taste of New Mexico in the Great White North.  Canada is full of surprises!

Wood And Water

As the Rocky Mountaineer heads north into British Columbia, you see prime logging territory — plenty of towering trees that can provide logs to spare, and vast rivers ready to deliver them to the sawmills downstream.  The whole country seems geared for a successful timber industry, and that remains true even today.  As you look out the window at the landscape rolling by, it’s not unusual to see log delivery rafts floating  downstream, ready to be collected.

Once you move away from the American border, though, the rivers become less placid and civilized and more . . .  desperate.  We go from placid logging rivers to whitewater, such as the brutal Hell’s Gate run, shown below.  No wonder it earned that name.

And then . . . everything changes, in a weird and unexpected way.  More on that tomorrow morning.