Friday, July 19, 2019

Banff Review - in summary

As you can see, our Banff adventure was a wonderful and fairly indulgent introduction to the Canadian Rockies.  I think I first posted a picture of Lake Moraine as a travel goal back in 2011.  Anytime I saw a photo of it or thought about "where would I want to go..." it was there.  Having such high expectations can be slightly unnerving in the days leading up to the trip, but I can genuinely say the trip exceeded my high expectations!!  The beauty, the company, the food, the hospitality, the pace - each and every thing went just so well.     As any good trip will do, it left me thinking about where to next, and reminded me of this enormous world we have the privilege to discover.   Cheers to more dreams coming true ~~*

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”   - Elizabeth Gilbert

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Banff Review - Activities

Initially, I was unsure if 7 days was the right amount of time for the trip to Lake Louise.  Would we have enough to do?  Temperatures in the Rockies aren't warm and as such there aren't outdoor pools to lounge at in case we had a day or two to fill...  however, there was more than enough to do and in fact there were a few of our lower priority items, mountain biking, yoga etc, that we didn't get around to.  

Here is a list of how we spent our time.  I'm recording it here as a reference for myself and anyone else who may wish to travel to Banff!  

Saturday: depart Boston. Connect in Toronto.  Arrive Calgary.  Rent car, drive approx. 1.5 hours to Banff and stop for lunch in town.  Drive another 50 minutes to Lake Louise.  We went to Lake Moraine on our first day.  That is one of the "harder" lakes to visit because they have very small parking lots that fill up quickly and it's gorgeous and on most people's lists.  We visited at approximately 5pm on a drizzly early evening and we drove right in!   Pictures were as scenic as can be and the crowds weren't bad at all.  They close the road into the lake once the lot fills and we realized that the road was closed nearly every day after our visit!   My suggestion: take advantage of drizzly, rainy weather.  The lakes are still beautiful and the crowds really thin out!     After Lake Moraine, we checked in, had a light dinner and went to bed. 

Sunday: Hike Devil's Thumb via the Tea House and Big Beehive.   This was the longest hiking day we had (about 11 miles).   Most people who hike at Lake Louise hike to the Tea House (a historic and delicious!) lodge to have lunch, take a break and enjoy the views.   From there we continued on to Big Beehive, a moderately difficult, but no more difficult than the first half, hike with some of my favorite views.  We were feeling energetic and decided on a whim to continue to Devil's Thumb.  This one was significantly harder, very doable - some scrambling but not dangerous - but quite high.  The views were spectacular and I'm glad we pushed and I ventured a bit out of my comfort zone to complete that one! 

Monday: We gave our legs a break and drove to Jasper.  Jasper is about 3 hours from Lake Louise but it's a beautiful ride!  Watch out for tourists we just stop on the road to admire the views or spot wildlife... but other than that... the drive is spectacular.   In Jasper, we booked a boat cruise to the magnificent Spirit Island.  The only way to reach Spirit Island is by Kayak (about 8 hours) or these small tour boats.  They give good information about the area, great photo opportunities and the small boats keep them from feeling too "touristy".  Spirit Island is a must see, in my opinion. 

Tuesday: White Water Rafting with White Water Adventures.  Loved this trip!!  This was my third time rafting in the Northwest and each time seems more beautiful than the last.  For me, it's just the right mix of adrenaline and scenic beauty and the guides are always so well-traveled, warm and interesting.  We did the Traditional because it was the longest duration on the river and it mixed both their gentle and their harder courses.   The river was beautiful, the group was extremely organized and well-run and our guide James was an absolute blast.  Loved it!  

Wednesday: Athabasca Glacier Tour.  This was the most touristy thing we did on our trip and we hesitated about whether it was worthwhile, but in the end both agreed it was very cool.   The guides give a great lesson about the history, future and impacts of the glaciers and although very cold that day it was fun to get a chance to visit one.  I felt bad for the people who didn't come dressed in warm clothing, it was about 32 degrees with a harsh wind out there.  The buses with tires the size of me were also kind of fun!   Buy your tickets in advance as there is limited availability and people who didn't have tickets were being told the wait was about 6 hours!   We bought ours the day before and had no issue.  Also, by booking a morning tour, we had no trouble parking.  

Thursday: Hiking Mount Fairview.   We had given our legs ample rest time and heard from a few local sources (aka, the waiter and the retail manager at the onsite outdoor apparel store) that Mt. Fairview was not to be missed if we were willing to do a challenging hike.   It was a great hike.  We saw a total of about 25 people on the trail, in other words virtually desolate for a trail that began at Lake Louise, and the first 2000 feet was a moderate hike with spectacular views nearly the whole way.  The last 1000 feet was challenging, mostly vertical with very little rest, but the feeling of accomplishment was great and the panoramic views at the top were something I'll never forget.  You certainly feel the magic of the Canadian Rockies on this hike!!    Treat yourself to Fondue, in either the Wallister Stube at the Fairmont, or the Post Hotel down the road, and enjoy your guilt-free post hike gluttony!   Yumm! 

Friday: Spa Day!   We treated ourselves to massages, the hot tub and some low key shopping around and a nap on Friday.  Having done so much during the week, it was nice to have a day to just relax. 

Saturday: Back to reality.   1pm departures meant we had to leave mid-morning and get into Boston around 10pm.  A long day but my heart was so full from one of the most spectacular experiences of my life!!

(This post would be better with pics, I'll try to upload a few once I have more time) 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Banff Review - Fairmont Lake Louise

I have been back from Banff for a few days.  While getting back into the swing of reality, spending quality time with my little J after traveling without him for the week, and dealing with a few miscellaneous minor headaches...  I want to be sure to capture my recent trip to Banff National Park, truly the trip of a lifetime!

We arrived on Saturday, July 5 for a 7 night vacation.  It was wonderfully planned and I wouldn't change a thing!   I'll try to use a few blog posts to talk about parts of the trip.  To start, where we stayed.

We did something that I think is not traditional for visiting that area, which is to stay at the Fairmont Lake Louise for the entire duration of our trip.  The Fairmont can appear expensive, and as such many people either don't stay there when visiting the Lake or they stay for 1 or two nights and move onto Banff or Jasper.  I'd like to make the case for staying at the Fairmont for the duration of the trip: 

-- Lake Louise is centrally located in Banff National Park - it is about an hour drive to the town of Banff, a close drive (under an hour) to White Water Rafting and the Athabasca Glacier, and a full day (4 hour) but doable drive to Jasper.   By staying in one place, we could access all of the activities we wanted to enjoy without having to constantly be on the road. 

-- You can take advantage of some great deals offered by the Fairmont.  We got the "Buy 5 nights, get 2 free" + free parking ($30/day) + $350 resort credit (to be used for dining, spa or onsite shopping).   This took the average cost per day down substantially (more than 30%!).   Do the math for the whole trip before being scared off by the price per night.

-- The comforts of unpacking and staying put.  This trip required some extremes in packing - very cold weather gear, nice outfits for dinner, dirty clothes for hiking/rafting etc.  It was nice to be able to unpack and have things hung in the closet instead of always living out of a bag.

-- Getting to know the hotel well.  The Fairmont had about 7 restaurants on site.  It was nice to know which bar had the best evening view, who made the best espresso martini, where to get nachos after a hike, what time to go to the hot tub and which waiter gave the best hiking recommendations! :)

-- Being a guest at the Fairmont Lake Louise gives you the best access to the Lake.  Non-guests had a significantly smaller area to enjoy and couldn't dine at the restaurants on site.   The views in the restaurants were spectacular and the food was well above typical hotel dining.  Our wonderful hikes originated from the Lake so being guests there meant we didn't have to stress about arriving on time to secure parking etc. 

-- Banff isn't the most convenient destination (a flight into Calgary and a two hour drive) so it is unlikely it will become a place we visit very often.  That said, we took the opportunity to splurge a bit and really soak up the whole experience.  If you have the means, stay at the Fairmont.  I'd rather cut back on dining or spa or even be more frugal at home for a few months, so that I could travel this way again.

The reason that I said I think it's an untraditional way to explore the area is we didn't see many of the same faces night after night and the servers and people we met at the hotel seemed shocked to hear we were staying so long.   This post is my pitch for doing it this way... I wouldn't think twice! 

View from the room.  Every morning the views changed depending on the skies - sunny, overcast etc. We had simple coffee and yogurt from the deli and ate it in our room.  This was a magical way to start the day and cost less than $15.  Being eye-level with the clouds was unforgettable!  

The Fairview Dining Room was a great spot for dinner with the best views.  But don't miss their bar area.  We almost always had a window seat overlooking the lake and the espresso martini was 5*! 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Camp Connelly

Our dear friends invited us to spend the weekend at their lakefront cottage in Falmouth, ME.   J ran with bare feet for nearly the entire weekend - in and out of the water, climbing up rocks, making "animal soup", roasting marshmellows and playing Ninjago's with his friends (one new and one old).  The adults BBQ'd, sat on the dock, laid on the sleeping porch - a screened in porch with an exceptionally comfortable twin bed just right for a middle of the day goal! , played board games, sat by the fire and commented on how wonderful life really is. 

Summer 2019, the magic has begun.....

Thursday, June 20, 2019


If I'm being perfectly honest, we stumbled upon Huttopia when I accidentally made a reservation somewhere else for the wrong date and we found ourselves already in NH!   Thank God for phones and internet, we were able to find a vacancy at Huttopia and went there on a whim.

It was a fantastic "glamping" experience in the White Mountains.  It was just S and I but I plan to go back with J in tow as it looked like a wonderful place for families, too.   Our lakeside hut was well equipped with a comfortable bed, small bathroom, mini fridge, pots and pans, a deck, a firepit, etc.  All the necessities for a proper camp outing without having too lug too much or sleep on the ground.

On Saturday, we canoed on a pristine White Mountain lake and heated our BBQ over the fire and on Sunday we hiked Piper Loop.  It was a great trip and I look forward to returning!

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity” - John Muir   

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Elizabeth Gilbert - Live @ Memorial Church

Last night I had the pleasure to see one of my favorite author's, often quoted throughout this blog, speak live.  She was touring her new book and gave us a bit of an overview on how the book came to be as well as read the first chapter aloud.   After that she answered questions from the audience for about an hour.  I was so impressed with her wit, her articulation, her thoughtfulness and her humble attitude.  Like me, she's a devout believer in something bigger than this human experience.  She did not insist but was steadfast in her faith. 

She had a lot of brilliant things to say including the importance of her eccentric 4th grade teacher, her fond childhood memories of her family's roaring holiday conversations (do we censor what kids hear more than we should?) a dollhouse that kept her and her sister occupied for years, reminding me of my Fisher Price people.  But my favorite anecdote was what she had to say about grief.  She lost her partner to pancreatic cancer and she has publicly shared the grief that engulfed her.  As a practice, she reads the Book of Job in the Bible nearly every morning.  I'm not much a student of the Bible but I appreciated this story.  In the Old Testament Job questions God, does not understand suffering, wants an explanation...  God responds, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth?  ....Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place.."  on and on it goes.   The parable is a humbling reminder of our smallness and humility.   Surrendering to the mystery is one of my most dear spiritual practices.

I was lucky enough to spend it with great company; which multiplies the joy of an already wonderful life affirming evening. 


Thursday, June 13, 2019

A friend

I've been blessed with some truly amazing friendships in my life.  I am friends with many people that I met in first grade, when I look at J it is amazing to me that so many of my lifelong friendships have been going since his age!   We have gone through so many life changes together - growing up, going away to college, marriages, jobs, illness, divorces, children of our own.  My friends are genuine and they are as imperfect as I am but over the past few years when the rollercoaster of life began to truly wobble, I have been comforted by the truth, loyalty and sincerity that sustains these relationships.

When my dad passed away, one of my dearest friends, Sarah - I'm waving to you!!, flew from California to Boston to be with me for the services and the weekend.  In the days leading up to the funeral, another friend mentioned that she was coming in.  I said - no, no! that is really not necessary!- and we looked at each other and knowingly said, "but of course she's coming."  Not only was she at the wake and funeral, but the night of the funeral I was able to spend time at a friend's house drinking wine, in our sweats, in grief but surrounded by love and comfort. I couldn't have asked for a better place to be that night.

Sarah has one of the hugest hearts of any person that I know.   To know her is to love her.  She would give anything for her friends, her family or really - anybody who needed her.  She is the most steadfast and loyal friend imaginable and I trust her with every ounce of who I am.  ....we also have had some of the most fun and funniest memories over the years!    Sarah's journey hasn't been simple - she lost her own father 15 years ago, she defeated cancer and has managed a cross-country relocation.   If these years have taught me anything it's that sometimes we need to face the hardships of life to understand our potential, our strength and the depths of relationships that surround us.  Through divorce and now death, I have been the lucky recipient of Sarah's greatness.   Sometimes we are sent special angels and they love us unconditionally through life.   We are given the privilege and honor of loving them, too.