Tuesday, May 14, 2013

All of Alberta, well mostly – Day 5 & 6 - Sunday and Monday

After arriving in Edmonton very late on Saturday night, we woke up in time for me to Facetime with the family for Mother’s Day before heading out. We stayed at the Ramada because it was close to the train station and also to the Hertz where I would pick up the car the next morning. I did not know that it was a stealth Hertz, that made great efforts to ensure it was not found. I wandered up and down the street behind our hotel for an hour, and even called the Hertz to find their location. It turns out it was in an unmarked building with no sign anywhere near it. Oh obviously that is a great marketing scheme. Well done Hertz. I picked up our little tin can that had the great price of $15 a day, only 45 minutes behind schedule, met Jenn, and we headed to downtown Edmonton for drive-by sight-seeing. We stopped at the legislative building and wandered around the grounds, drove by some really quaint parks separated by a massive river running through the city, saw the outside of the Royal Alberta Museum, rolled down Whyte street filled with adorable retro shops, and finally stopped stalling and went to the West Edmonton mall, the largest mall in North America! It was a great way to see the city though, as we saw a lot and got a nice sense of the town. Edmonton reminded me of Missouri – kind of flat, spread out, middle class houses, constructed with stucco or siding, but very friendly people and somewhere you could envision living. It is a bustling city with decent public transportation, but a big suburban area as well.

Onto the mall. This was the first activity in which Jenn expressed interest during the planning phase of the trip. She was so right to ensure we went! There was a sea lion show, an entire water park, a big kid amusement park, ice skating rink, 50+ restaurants, and every store I could hope for! I have been to many malls, outdoor and in, but West Edmonton Mall was really was massive and diverse. It was as if they polled kids on their favorite thing to do and jammed all of that in between stores. We went to a number of our favorite stores, dashing in and out so we could get to as many in as possible. We watched the skaters and saw the sea lions, but we were really just counting the minutes until the roller coaster. As a thrill seeker, I have enjoyed many coasters. This one…. was good. Very good. Although it’s packed into two stories and a confined space, there were more loops and (for the first time) I nearly blacked out while on the ride! I’ve been to all the parks at Disney World, Disney land, Eurodisney, Busch gardens, Universal Studios, a couple of Sea Worlds, a number of Six Flags, and even been sky diving twice, but never have a I nearly blacked out! It was a total rush worth saving to the end of the Edmonton adventure.

We grabbed some fast food and drove the 3 hours to Calgary, encountering beautiful flat plains with bright vibrant colors. There were some rolling hills but mostly a lot of farms, cows, and a lot of wind!!  Jenn and I parted ways in Calgary after supper as Jenn stayed with a friend and they spent the next day driving around Banff and Lake Louise. I left for Banff that evening to spend the next day skiing. The drive to Banff was breathtaking as I reentered the Rockies from the flat terrain I had spent the day in. The sun was setting and there were some of the pink and orange colors you see in Arizona, but a lot of purple added to the mix. Really nice colors bouncing off the big fluffy clouds with the Rockies in the background. I spent the 90 minute drive rocking out to some girly music and was sad to get to Banff as quickly as I did. As I pulled into the skiing village, it was clear that this was more like a skiing city, very different from the quaint Jasper. Banff clearly had a skiing industry with cutesy buildings constructed to look like a ski town, whereas Jasper had the effortless look of a ski town. It looked a bit like a façade, but still a nice place to hang out.

I pulled up to a hostel and paid $32 for a bed in a shared female dorm – and that included breakfast! In the room were 3 bunk beds, one bed occupied with a woman trying to sleep (as it was 11pm), and a few beds clearly ‘claimed’. I crawled up to one of the top bunks and put the new sheets on the bed, changed my clothes, and turned in, without making too much noise. While falling asleep three more girls came in and made their way to bed, without fuss. I never spoke with any of them, except for the girl who talked in her sleep in French all night; we had a nice conversation, though I doubt she remembers it. The next morning I woke up and layered on most of the clothes I brought to go skiing. I had tights and yoga pants, a tank top, long-sleeve tee, scarf, gloves, and spring jacket. This would have to be enough as it was all I had. I was thankful that my jacket had a hood as I didn’t bring a hat, and I had to purchase sunglasses once I arrived on the mountain, but I’m jumping ahead.

For breakfast in the hostel, after dropping your used sheets in the hamper, I went downstairs to the industrial kitchen and chose from a selection of bread, cereals, and eggs. It was a neat feeling to stay in a hostel like this, as clearly this was a home for some of the local workers, not just a hotel for people passing through like me. There was a sense of community and shared struggles of people trying to get work and just enjoy life as it came. This hostel felt authentic, compared to the hipster hotel of Vancouver. I can’t imagine this being my life: staying in a hostel and working during the day to get enough money to go to the next town, but it was interesting to ponder.

Back to skiing: I missed the exit to the Sunshine ski resort, only a few miles from Banff, so I took it as an opportunity to continue on to Lake Louise. It was raining, though not quite pouring as I made the short walk to the beautiful water scene. Lake Louise is a vast collection of water surrounded by the spiky peaks of the Rockies. There was ice over the water, with varying thicknesses, evidence of Winter melting into Spring. You couldn’t see the top of the mountains as the clouds were so low, it looked like the heavens were nearly close enough to touch. I got back in my car and headed to Sunshine to ski ski ski! On the drive, one of the overpasses had an elk standing in the center inspecting the cars that passed on either side. It was so exciting that for a second, I thought it was fake. It had a rack with at least 8 points and was just majestic!

At Sunshine ski resort, I rented skis, got in the gondola, excited for the 15 minute ride, but was a bit put off with only seeing 20 cars in the parking lot. It had been years since I skied, so I was just excited to get the chance. As soon as I got off the first chair lift, the familiar burning feeling in the thighs came back quickly, the slight fear at the top of a hill for what is in store, the rush of the wind in your hair and cold icing your cheeks. Ahhh skiing. There was no one on the mountain. It was a very weird feeling to do an entire 5 – 10 minute run and not pass another person. At first it was hard to tell where the runs were, as I realized most of the time, I’m just watching where other people go. Plus the visibility was pretty poor as the top of each run was inside a cloud. This was my first chance to try spring skiing, and it was different. As I would come to the bottom of a hill with a slight rise in front of me, normally you would lean forward to try to build up speed so you could get to the top of the hill with little effort. With spring skiing, there is often slush at the bottom so you are slowed down quite a bit. Every time I hit slush, I was a bit surprised. The runs were nice and it was neat to ski alone. Typically I ski with my family so this was different to do whatever run at whatever speed, with no breaks. Funny though, it got old quickly. I probably did as many runs in 3 hours as I would do in a whole day. Only once did I have to wait for a ski lift because there was one person in line in front of me. Guh. It was a fun cold day, and I had nearly enough clothes but not quite. It sleeted, snowed, cleared up, rained, and powered. It was like the weather had ADD on the mountain and just couldn’t decide what to do.

I enjoy skiing because there are so many analogies between skiing and life. You can start off at the top of a mountain with a basic game plan on which runs to take and where you want to end up, but on the way down, the runs may not be clearly marked, you find a run is closed, or a different run looks more exciting. Rarely do you take the path you planned. Life, though you can plan where you want to end up and how you want to get there, will rarely follow your plan. Oh – second analogy, you may see a sign claiming a run is blue (intermediate), but it turns out it’s more like a black diamond due to the conditions or a disappointing green. Quite often, life has twists and turns and your expectations are not equivalent with reality. There’s nothing like skiing alone to have hours to ponder life.

I had an opportunity to take some silly pictures while skiing. During my last few vacations, I have taken a few minutes to do a yoga pose in front of a random scene. For this adventure, the most random yoga pic would be while wearing ski boots with the mountain behind. However, I didn’t have anyone to take the picture. So, I set up the camera, turned it to timer, ran to the spot, tried to get into the pose, find peace, then reach the final extension, while in ski boots in thick snow, all in 10 seconds, haha. Needless to say, this process took a lot of takes. It was fun though, and if it were easier, I wouldn’t have laughed nearly as much as I did.

After a few hours of skiing, the required chili and hot chocolate for lunch, I left the mountain and drove back to Calgary. I spent another 90 minutes rocking out to girly music and arrived in Calgary around 4:30pm. Armed with advice from a former local, I drove through the quaint shopping area of Kensington, with hipster joints and fun cafes. Then I parked near Stephen Ave and saw a bridge that looked like a Chinese finger trap, some cute parks, a neat 3-D head that looked computer animated and was at least 1 story high, the Olympic park, and a cute downtown district. This area had the feel of Phoenix. It was incredibly dry, sunny, nice art randomly in the center of the city, and had massive buildings jutting from the center of a flat area. (Only Phoenix does have some mountains in the city).  It was nice to spend a few hours stretching my legs before meeting Jenn and driving back to Edmonton to catch our train.

All in all, Alberta was a fun place to visit, and I can’t believe how much we did in 2 days. Edmonton, Calgary, Banff, and Lake Louise. Skiing, shopping, roller coasters, and 9 hours in the car. Coming up: 21 hour train ride, then a big concert in Winnipeg, and a turn south into the States!

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