Also interested in that list. (Although, for now, the hi res photo offers a few decipherable titles.)
Ze Burglar of Banf-f-f
A few months ago, I was curious how much tickets from Manchester to NY were over the summer. I picked a random date that I thought might be cheap and set the engine to find a flight, expecting a ridiculously unaffordable price. But instead, by some witchcraft magik, a flight that was half the price of all the others appeared before my eyes. So, I bought it. Impulse purchases are the best.
And then I realised that I didn’t exactly have a way to get back home from NY. But I thought about it - why do I have to fly back from NY? What if I hopped somewhere really cool, and flew back from there? What if I visited my friend where she lives in Canada? And so, my very cheap flight became very expensive as I bought a flight to Calgary and then from Calgary to Manchester. Impulse purchases are the best?
After my whirlwind week in LI/BKLN/PA, I boarded the plane to Calgary. The plane was an hour late departing, and I very very very nearly missed my bus from the airport to Banff, which would have been terrible because it was the last bus of the night. But luckily the man at customs didn’t detain me (although that was a close call) and my baggage was already on the carousel (miracles do happen!), and my legs had the ability to run to the bus (my lungs on the other hand…). It was a two hour drive in the dark to my friend’s house, so I could really only see the highway, which looks like any old American highway, which I guess should kinda be expected considering they’re attached, but I dunno, I expected something that screamed “welcome to Mountie Land!” So after about 20 minutes, all I could see was the insides of my eyelids. I woke once we got into Banff and the driver asked me if we were close to the house, but I obviously had no idea. I figured we had a few more stops before mine, so when he pulled to a stop on a street, I didn’t know to get up. Until I saw my friend through the window of her house flying out the door and down the street to the bus. Say it with me, awwwwwwww. After a happy reunion, we realised that it was well past midnight at this point, so we did little but went to bed.
The next day, I awoke to see a GIANT MOUNTAIN outside her window. I couldn’t see anything in the dark the night before, so I was legitimately shocked to see this. It honestly didn’t look real - the whole town looks like someone painted a magical backdrop for it. It’s incredible. I mean, just look at it.
We headed into town to rent a car so that we could drive to the nearby lakes. First was Lake Louise. I’ve never seen a blue so blue.
The water is all glacier water running off that GIANT MOUNTAIN in the background. Which I promise is real, and not some painted optical illusion.
We walked around the lake to the far end. About halfway down, we wondered if we shouldn’t turn back, since the view wasn’t really going to change, but we continued on anyway. And that happened to be the best decision ever. At the end was a rocky shore-type-thing, and we decided to climb down to one and have a rest. There was a family behind us, and the little boy was running around. We turned to look, and discovered that he wasn’t just being a kid, he was feeding chipmunks. There were chipmunks everywhere! Fun fact we learnt: apparently, chipmunks live in rocks. And really like little boy’s granola bars. We, of course, got in on the action.
This is the best photo I’ve ever taken.
After this chipmunk funfest, we drove over to Lake Morraine. This lake wasn’t as breathtaking as Lake Louise, but it’s still incredible.
Right next to this pile of seemingly random logs was a big rocky hill that people were climbing. We thought it looked dangerous and stupid to do that, but, well, you can see where this is going.
This picture makes the hill look much more tame than it actually was, which is good, since my parents are the only ones that read this blog anyway.
So, that seemingly random pile of logs turned out to be how you climbed over to the hill - a natural bridge, one might say. One false step and you were shin-deep in freezing cold glacier water. (On the way back, SPLASH! The young boy behind me felt the wrath of the lake. He said it wasn’t as cold as he was expecting. Poor kid.) We used the logs as a obstacle course of balance beams, then wound our way up the rocks. Halfway up, conscious now that chipmunks live in rocks, and armed with the Cheez-Its I brought for Hannah to try the best American goodie, we spotted our little friend. Hannah made the first offering:
And we were BFFS from there on out.
At one point, a lady a bit further down the hill from us called to get our attention. ”Look, there’s a chipmunk!” She screamed, as she pointed to a rock near her. I pointed back to the one IN MY HAND and she told me to move my big head out of the way so she could get a better picture. True. We decided that it was time to say goodbye to our new friend, so we stopped getting him more Cheez-Its. Except he was still hungry, so he started licking the cheese powder off our fingers. I swear, this is also true. I plan on writing to Sunshine Biscuits and telling them how much adorable rodents love their crackers.
Once we got to the top and saw the gorgeous view, we realised that there was actually a path that you could take, with man-made steps and everything, around the back of the hill. Oops.
We walked a bit on the path and a little way down the back of the hill saw what appeared to be a rogue hamster. Like someone no longer wanted their pet, and so dumped it on the mountain. We chased after it to get a closer look, but couldn’t find him. People were starting to stare at us, so we walked back up to the path, and that’s when we noticed the sign that said “please don’t leave the trail, dangerous.” Oops. We googled it later, and it turns out that the forlorn pet was actually a pika. SO CUTE. I want one. I googled it just now, and apparently they don’t do very well as pets. Damn.
Further up the path, we found more chipmunks and we shared our Cheez-It glory with them. We also did a bit of NatGeo photography.
There was a smaller chipmunk with bigger stripes there as well, which we thought might be a baby, and maybe they lose their stripes as they age. We googled this as well, and it turns out that it was a different kind of chipmunk! Which just proves to show that racism is a social construct.
Regular (Eastern) chipmunk (back) with his friend the Western chipmunk (front)
After this incredible hike, we drove back into town to pick up dinner. We got takeaway from a local place, then drove out to Lake Minnewanka to eat. We found a little rocky shoreline, where, weirdly enough, scuba diving was allowed. We started to eat, looking around at the amazing view, when all of a sudden we heard nothing. Literal, complete silence. It was incredible.
The next day, after a slow start of hashbrowns and Babar, we decided to take on Tunnel Mountain, a mountain right behind Hannah’s house (like, literally down the street). The whole time I was there, I was joking that I was going to go back and tell everyone that I hiked the Rockies. But then we actually did hike the Rockies. Compared to the other mountains, Tunnel is more of a hill, but it’s still about a mile high if mountains could be measured like that.
The hike was ridiculously tough, because of the thin air and 85 degree heat and my out of shapeness, but it was worth it.
Banff and the Bow River from the top of Tunnel
Around the back of the mountain, there was a great view of my new favourite mountain, Mount Rundle. Just look at it. It’s awesome.
We hiked back down, washed all the sweat off, and wandered around town for a bit. Later that day, while sitting in Hannah’s living room, her flatmate comes in from the balcony saying “have you guys noticed this?” and there was a GIANT deer in the yard.
I probably shouldn’t have been so wowed by a deer because there were loads in Ithaca, but this thing was super huge.
The next morning I we went back into town for lunch, and then I had to say goodbye to the wonderful place that is Banff. And after 23 hours of travel later, and 3 days of serious jetlag, I write this post from Jolly Old.
P.S. I really really really want to go back to Banff in the winter, if anyone wants to fund that.
“'My name is Robert but I would prefer that you call me Bob.' It's just like that. You know what I mean? And if you were to insist upon calling that person Robert, you would be a colossal dick.”
- Paul F. Tompkins, succinctly explaining why you call people what they want to be called, whether it’s “little people” or “transgender” or “chairperson” or “Bob”. It’s not about being politically correct and it’s not about you. It’s about basic decency and respect. (via ericmortensen)
Okay, I’m done.
And most importantly:
When in Wien
And on to Vienna!
Tracey I and decided to be adventurous and take the 8am bus down to Austria, because when else would we have that opportunity. The ride was 4 hours, so we had to pack as much as we could in the 10 hour time span allotted to us. Vienna doesn’t have any free walking tours, and we sure as hell weren’t about to pay for one, so we found a self-guided tour online. We used a paper map (shocking!) and I read the printout of what each building was. It was funny, and convenient, but I wouldn’t do it again (because I would have liked to actually spend time in a few buildings, rather than stand outside of loads).
Let me be your tour guide on our self guided tour. For the full effect, imagine us standing on a street corner as I read from a computer printout with cheesy lines and shoddy English.
Vienna State Opera House. We got off the metro thinking we would have to walk a bit to find the first site, but it was literally right there. It’s because I’m such a good guide.
Then we walked around the Opera House to Sacher Café (which again, looked way further on the map, but because of the surprising smallness of the city, I mean, my excellent guide skills, it was actually just around the corner). This traditional Viennese coffeehouse is home of the original Sacher-Torte (chocolate cake), now a traditional Viennese dessert. We got one slice of the cake, one apple strudel, and two cups of melange (coffee). The cake was okay and I’ve never been a fan of strudel, but MAN THAT COFFEE. It’s like a cappuccino, but better, and with a spoonful of whipped cream on top. I’m drooling just thinking about it. Oh man.
After the okay cakes and amazing coffee, we entered the Kaisergruft, the Imperial Crypts. I was expecting something like des Catacombes de Paris, which is just bones, but what it actually was was a terrifyingly well-kept burial site of the royal Habsburg family.
They continue adding to the crypts as members of the Habsburg family die. They have a space waiting for you, Jenna Maroney.
After the crypts, we did some quick sites of Vienna, aka, standing outside a building long enough to take a photo.
Neue Berg (New Wing) of Hofburg Palace
Spanish Winter Riding School. Named after the Spanish horses they used, not the Spanish teachers they employed. (Because they were Viennese, not Spanish, if that wasn’t clear enough. The teachers, I mean.)
Ancient Roman Wall Ruins. They actually go below ground, as I was standing on ground level looking down for this picture.
Next we visited Habsburg Palace. The palace is actually split into a bunch of different sections, and although we only wanted to see the palace itself, the cheapest entry ticket forces you to see three of them. I mean, I guess we could have skipped the two places that weren’t the palace, but we paid for it, so we might as well go in.
The first place was the Sisi Museum, which was dedicated to Empress Elisabeth. I was expecting it to be boring since I’ve never heard of her before, but she was actually really bad-ass. Basically she considered her forced marriage to the Emperor Habsburg a prison sentence and publicly lamented the loss of her freedom. My kinda lady. Next was the silver collection, which was pretty much a bunch of kitchenware.
These plates were pretty cool. There were hundreds.
After that was the Imperial Apartments (aka the palace). No pictures allowed, and I was a good child and didn’t sneak any.
The next step was the Naschmarkt, which wasn’t on our self-guided tour, but Tracey found it through the powers of the Internet. It’s half traditional market, half flea market. The flea market part was a lot like Brooklyn Flea, but dirtier. The traditional part was awesome. Everyone wants to give you samples of real dried fruit (I tried a dried kumquat!), and we sampled the most amazing truffle gouda cheese. We also sat down at a café for more melange, because it’s seriously that good.
After the Naschmarkt, we continued on our tour. Imagine me reading aloud beautifully from that paper again…
St. Stephen’s Church. It’s big.
Haas House. It’s directly across from the church, and controversial because of its modernness.
St. Peter’s Church. It’s oval.
We planned to enter the church, but heared shouts down the street behind us. Using Tracey’s method of “follow the noise,” we found ourselves in the middle of a protest with police monitoring the situation very closely. We had no idea what they were protesting because there weren’t any signs (though there was one pride flag), and there weren’t many people. I googled it yesterday and it turns out that it was a protest against Quds-Day. How about that.
When the protest passed us, we headed back to the church, which was now flooded with a massive tour group. If I ever have the idea to join a travelling tour, just smack me. Once I finally got to inside the church, there was a Canadian choir performing. I have a video of them somewhere.
Outside the church was the Plague Monument, which I don’t think I realised was part of the tour, I just thought it looked picture-worthy. Also, that horse-and-buggy driver was definitely picture-worthy. He’s throwing some serious shade.
And that concludes our tour! You’ve been a wonderful audience. As we all know “free tours” aren’t really free, and if you would ever so kindly tip me as much as you think this tour was worth, I would greatly appreciate it! Please keep in mind that I’m a broke student, made all the more broke by my wanderlust. Oh thank you, you’re too kind.
After finishing the tour, we realised that we hadn’t seen the river yet, so we headed up there to do just that. It was less than spectacular, though I think that’s just because we didn’t go to a nice part.
After that, we met up with an old childhood classmate who happened to be in Vienna with her family for the week. Weird worldly coincidences! She brought us to Popfest, a pop music festival held outside a massive church. There was a giant light up duck (like, twice-my-height-giant), and one of the stages was in the pool outside the church. I hadn’t really seen any locals the whole day (in fact, I hadn’t seen many people at all compared to how packed Prague’s streets were), until Popfest. I guess the Viennese are vampires that only come out at night. And as your formal official Viennese tour guide, you can quote me on that. Also, all Viennese are 20-something hipsters. Facts!
We spent about an hour there, then had to leave to go back to Prague. Thus concluded our quick sojourn in Austria. Looking back, I wish we had stuck to a few things (the Palace, gone inside the Austrian Library, and gone to the Austrian Gallery to see Klimt), but what can ya do.
The next day, Tracey had a (really) early flight back to London, and I had the day to myself in Prague. I had plans to visit the Jewish Cemetery, as I previously mentioned, but I got caught up looking for a place that could sell me stamps. So instead, I had a nice sit-down meal, which I hadn’t really had in Prague yet. I got a full block of warmed brie, so much creamed spinach I couldn’t eat it (and if you know me, you’ll know that that’s a lot of spinach), and a pint of Czech beer for the equivalent of $7. That’s not a typo. SEVEN. Prague is ridiculously cheap. Beer is $1.50. Which is part of the reason I loved Prague so much.
But the main reason I loved the city is because it’s the perfect holiday city. The architecture is so beautiful, everything is so cheap, and there’s just enough to do where you can take it slowly but still have a full day. And the beer. Vienna is much more of a working city, which was fine, but not as fun as Prague because of it. Plus it’s way more expensive. Although, it does have melange, and Prague coffee is terrible, so it does have that going for it.