Tuesday, August 27, 2013

of water, ice, and rock: Moraine Lake

(part four of our anniversary trip posts)

yes, still writing about our 12th anniversary trip.  But we're almost done!  ;-)

So, after our little adventure walk on the Athabasca Glacier, we headed for the place I had chosen for our actual anniversary night:  Moraine Lake.   I had read that Moraine Lake was more beautiful that Lake Louise.  To be honest, both are incredibly stunning, so it doesn't really matter which one you think is more.  What matters is that these were two amazing, romantic, perfect days.  No, really.  Like, this was almost clichéd in how nice a time we had.


I have tons of photos like the one above.   From every angle.  The lake's colour was a stunning emerald-turquoise.  We were surrounded by mountains with glaciers.  Paths led to deep woods.  There was calm.   We had a cabin with a fireplace and a view of the lake.  And we had time, lots of time, just to relax, for walks, to kindle the fire, to sit by the water...  It was exactly what I had been looking for our anniversary, and probably more.

See those brightly coloured canoes?  We took one to go around the lake!   That was the first time we had done that together!   It was bright, and sunny, the water was calm and as blue as ever, my husband was happy to do most of the paddling and directing while I took photos... We spent a fantastic couple of hours doing a tour all around that magnificent lake.  


Of course, we also did our share of hiking by the shore, looking at the bright flowers, and at some point wandering off the path and into the woods, with me feeling as if in some fantasy realm with enchanted forests and mythical beings (I guess all those hours spent playing Dungeons & Dragons have left their mark...):


Yet another special thing about our stay there?  The fireplace in our cabin!   Admittedly, the first night my fire tending skills were rather embarrassing  Even though we found the fireplace ready to be lit, with wood, kindling, matches and what-not, I could still not make a nice, big, lasting one.   But the second night... the second night we sat by the fire for a long, long time.  Me, tending to it, basically hypnotized by it.  My huz next to me, reading, editing photos on his iPad, or deep in his own thoughts.   We were very close, and needed no words.  I'm myself a bit surprised at the slight apparent cheesiness of what I'm writing.  But what can I say, it was just like that: us, together, with the dancing light and warmth of the fire.  Simple.


As for food.  What can I say?   Since I'm vegan, I usually end up testing chefs' abilities when in restaurants with smaller menus.   In this case, everything on the menu looked absolutely scrumptious, but none of the mains were vegan or "veganizable".  And so, for our anniversary dinner, I had to tell the waiter to ask the chef if he could do something vegan for me.   Well, what he prepared was one of the most delicious things I've ever tried: a heirloom tomato, filled with red quinoa, with potatoes and greens.  And with who knows what spices and herbs and dressings and degree of care and attention, because that meal was out of this world.


And on top of those things which were amazing, but certainly not unexpected, we had too big surprises.  The first one, the morning of our anniversary:  fog.   We had gone up the Rockpile (which is, in essence, a very tall pile of rocks, which gives you beautiful views over the lake) to look at the lake under the morning light.  In the very far distance we could see a valley filled with fog, which reflected softly the golden light.   We took photos of the valley, the lake, the mountains, and then went down again to have breakfast.   The breakfast room was big, airy, and had big tall windows all around, so you could see the lake and mountains while there.  And that's when we saw it:  the fog we had seen before had come our way and started filling the whole lake area little by little!   When we were done having breakfast and went out, the thing was covering everything!  You could even barely see the Rockpile next to us!   And what did we do?   Well, we went for a hike by the lakeshore!   And that was magic.   And beautiful.  And like a good friend of mine noted, it was like being in a Chinese painting.


Our second morning at the lake gave us our second incredible morning surprise.  The first morning we had got up too late for sunrise.  The second morning we made an effort to get up early and climb the Rockpile hoping to see the sun rise in the valleys behind us.  What we didn't realize until we were up there was that, being surrounded by mountains everywhere, there was no sunrise to see, it all just gets brighter and brighter until the sun simply comes up from behind the mountains, but with no dramatic sunrise colours.   But the other thing we hadn't realized until we looked the other way, towards the lake... was that the moon was visible right over the mountains! reflecting on the lake!  and we actually witnessed the moon setting behind the mountains, between the glaciers!   That was absolutely incredible.   Almost unreal.     


To finish our stay, we signed up for a guided hike to Consolation Lake, about an hour from there.   Why did we sign up?  Well, I wanted to explore a bit more of the area, but also we were in the middle of bear territory and law (yes, LAW) dictated that certain hikes could only be done in groups of 4 or more.  And there was a fine of up to 5000 dollars for breaking the 4+ rule!  So, we signed up, and went on a hike with a very cheerful and bright girl and a bunch of others who had signed up too.   It was a fun walk, with lots of interpretation done by our guide, and soon we were by Consolation Lake.  Why the name?  Well, it seems it all depended on the mood of the people who discovered these places.  For example, the first westerner to arrive to Moraine Lake arrived under rather foul weather, and he described the lake as "grand and gloomy".  Yes, gloomy!   The person that discovered Consolation Lakes had had either bad weather on the way, or a very hard hike, so when he arrived to the valley under nice weather, well, that was one big consolation, so there!  LOL   Nothing could beat the beauty of "grand and gloomy" Moraine Lake, but Consolation Lakes was quite fine too:

So, though we all know that, rationally speaking nothing in life is perfect, I have a memory of a perfect anniversary at Moraine Lake.   In fact, that memory includes a gift from my beloved husband, who also happens to be a Butohka:  a Butoh performance, just for me, in our cabin, with the lake as background, and with a flower as gift for me at the end.   See?  A perfect, romantic, unforgettable, nature-full , delicious and surprising anniversary.

But that was not the end of our trip.  We still went back to Calgary, and I still got to satisfy one obsession of mine.   But I'll talk about that in my next and last post.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Ai Weiwei: According to What?

Maybe we should coin a new word, like "artivist" for political activists-artists.   Though he rightfully points that art is political, in his case it is much more so, like the following photos show, taken at the "Ai Weiwei: According to What?" (艾未未:憑什麼?) exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO):

- A sculpture made from Qing Dynasty temple remains and communist era parallel bars.

- A list of all the kids killed by the 2008 Wenchuan quake, where numerous shoddily built government schools crumbled like tofu.

- River crabs.  Which is slang for Harmony (in Mandarin river crab and harmony are pronounced the sand except for the intonation of the last syllable), a word often used by the Chinese  government.

Quite worth a visit to the AGO.

Monday, August 12, 2013

of water, ice, and rock: the Athabasca Glacier

(part three of our anniversary trip posts)

A surprise

Glaciers are unusual places.  So it was only fitting that we would stop by one as part of our anniversary celebrations.  First of all, we had views of the glacier from every single window of our hotel room!  I mean, including the bathroom!  That's right, you could brush your teeth (or substitute with whichever bathroom activity you like) while looking at the ice tongue descending from the mountains.   And all courtesy of the Glacier View Inn because, when I booked, they only had rooms with no views available.   But I did mention in an e-mail that this was our 12th anniversary trip... and that it would be really cool if we could get a room with a glacier view, if there were any cancellations, maybe, hopefully?  Well, not only did they move us to a glacier view room, but they upgraded us to their best room because of our anniversary! and hence the 3 windows with views!   How about that for a nice surprise!


As if that were not good enough, we were also super lucky and I managed to get two spots for a glacier walk (called Ice-Cubed by the company, lol) next morning.  So, after resting from our drive, and fully energized by the views and the prospect of adventure ahead, we set off to take photos (most tour buses had left, and the light was softer too) and explore a bit of the area by the foot of the glacier...

Now, when you are at a place where a long river of ice is flowing down the mountain, when what melts of it flows into a grayish pale-blue lake, when the sun is getting lower in the horizon and changes the light constantly but subtly, and when tall magenta flowers (Alpine Fireweed) colonize the shores of the lake, things have to happen...

Like Butoh, by the glacier, by my husband.  The rough terrain charged his feet while the mountains provided the perfect background.  He truly transformed, as he usually does, and I was the lucky single observer of the powerful event.  But then, when exploring near the lake, you know, just walking around, relaxing, enjoying... the soft gold light on the lake, the cold glacial water, the flowers in the soft gravel-soil, all those brought forth another Butoh interpretation, a very different one, this time moving him to tears in the end.  I was there, it was deep, the setting was magical, he amazed me, and we were happy.   


As for the walk on the glacier, next morning, what, do I really need to say how cool it was?  We had a smallish group, some 8 people.   And we had the perfect guide: good-looking, energetic, pleasant, knowledgeable.  And we had a perfect sunny day.  And we had 4 hours of walking up and down, looking at creeks of glacial water meandering down the glacier, carving shapes in the ice; peeking down deep blue ice caves; looking at quirky things like piles of black super fine rock-dust (the same one that gives the ice and lakes their blue colour) or patches of pink snow (caused by a reddish algae that grows on ice).

All in all, just perfect.  I'm so glad we chose the walk over the snocoach experience, where enormous coaches with special tires take you to a delimited area on the glacier where you get off and take pics for 10 minutes.   I mean, yeah, if all the walking tours are full and it's your only chance to be on a glacier, by all means you should.  But the ice walk was just so much more!


Alas, you can only stay so long in one place.  Plus, it was time for the third part of our anniversary (and for the anniversary day itself!) back in Banff National Park.  The drive back there gave us our first and only bit of (sort of) bad weather, with rain.  But it still allowed me for one last photo of a stretch of the road I had not been able to shoot when on our way to the Athabasca Glacier, the road and river in the valley you see in the last photo of my previous post on this trip.   So, rain and all, it was all good.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

in search of Banksy

Not the biggest, not the most impressive, but still a Banksy.  And with the guy's/girl's/artists' fame and the transient nature of this kind of art, good luck in finding more that have not been stolen, privatized, vandalized or just painted over. And, once you see it, you can always have a fantastic strong coffee and home fries to die for at Hank's, just a few steps north, on the east side of Church St. 

Note: for the precise location of this Banksy, click on the location information at the bottom of this post.

more. beer.

Since discovering the intricate and fascinating world of beer, I'm always on the lookout for good places where I get to try more stuff.  And Sunday I found another one: Amsterdam Brewhouse.  By the waterfront, with a number of porters and stouts (I just love those), and a huge pretzel with dips which is to die for.   Oh, and you can do a 4-beer sample too.  Which is great when in the mood for trying things.   Pretty cool.   

Monday, August 05, 2013

of water, ice, and rock: the Icefields Parkway

(part two of our anniversary trip posts)

Wherever you read, you'll find that the Icefields Parkway is one of the most beautiful drives in the world.   Me, being no experienced driver, can't comment on the accurateness of that statement.  But I can say that you'll see see enough stunning lakes and glaciers to actually numb yourself against them by the end!  IN fact, this poses a problem for this post too:  can I just post photo after photo of beautiful lakes and landscapes without boring the hell out of you?

Let's see how this develops.

First of all: this is indeed one super-amazing drive!  Actually, even the drive to the Icefields Parkway is amazing by itself.  Though you can choose to take the Trans-Canada Highway (which offers nice, open views), we opted for a calm, smaller side road called the Bow Valley Parkway to get us from Banff to Lake Louise (north of which the parkway begins), stopping by a peaceful meadow by towering Castle Mountain, and spotting a 2 bear cubs and their mother on the side of the road...  How cool is that?  Since my bear pics are really bad (apparently my camera skills were impaired by a conflict of instinct: "shoot!" vs "the mother could sprint and get you!"), you'll have to do with the meadow and the mountain (which, to be clear, proved a beautiful stop):

...and once you leave the Bow Valley Parkway you arrive to one (among a few) of Banff's gems: Lake Louise.   We did see the lake from afar and above, atop Sulphur Mountain, to which you arrive on a gondola.  Frankly, the experience of seeing the lake right in front of me was much more rewarding, more immersive?  I mean, a turquoise lake (or emerald? baby blue? the shades changed with the sunlight or lack of it). With the backdrop of mountains, ice and snow.  And offering an easy hike by its shore.   If you were to see one and one thing only in Banff national Park, this would be a very close second (what's the first? I'll tell you later!).   Stunning.  So stunning, it's probably the most photographed lake in the park.  So here's a slightly different view of it (since any Google search will give you perfect views from every other angle):

Darn, this is going to become a list of water-related pics, hey?  SIGH.  I promise the other posts won't be like this.  But this was a drive!  It makes sense to present it as a list! and a chronological one! right?   So, let's move on!

Ah, time for a SIDE NOTE:  Since we were driving from Calgary - and I'll talk about Calgary too, but not right now - we decided we'd drive back south from lake Louise to spend the night in Banff - the town -  so we could have plenty of time for next day's drive.  So this post is actually a drive that takes place over two days.   

Just north of Lake Louise you leave the Trans-Canada Highway and enter the Icefields Parkway (the French name sounds so much better, though:  Promenade des Glaciers).  Needless to say, and as you'll soon see, this was stop after stop of gorgeous views.

First, Lake Herbert.  In fact, this is not even a much advertised stop on the parkway.  Which just proves how basically anywhere you stopped gave a space to relax, breathe, and gaze.   And, in this particular case, admire the reflection of the sky in the water accompanied by electric blue fireflies.  As with the bears, please just picture them, 'cause my pictures don't do them justice.   But will just look at this just-your-ordinary-lake photo?

Since that was "just an unremarkable pond", things could only get more impressive.  Further north, another that-shade-of-blue-can't-possibly-be-real lake: Hector Lake.   Should you not find the colour of the water inspiring enough, you also had the woods and flowers around.   And Crowfoot Glacier, looming over the lake.  That is, the whole combo!  I have so many photos of this lake, it was hard to pick one:

At Hector Lake we were told by park staff the reason for the beautiful colour of the water:  all these are glacial lakes.  Glaciers have ground the rock to a very fine powder.  That powder, like most things, absorbs some light wavelengths and reflects others.  And it just so happens that the particular size the stone is ground into reflects these shades of turquoise-emerald.  The wonders of physics!    And armed with this knowledge, we could appreciate under a slightly different light our next stop:  Bow Lake and Bow Glacier.  You can't see it in this picture, but at the foot of the glacier (in the middle of the pic) there was a waterfall, there was a sort of beach around the frigid lake, and quite a few colourful sub-alpine flowers.  Or, in other words, this lake was even more striking than the last one!?

Now, these lakes were pretty much next to the parkway, or just a very short walk from it.  The next one required us to park in a parking lot and then walk, uphill, in the forest, for some 15 minutes.  Lots of interesting flowers there:  some like small violet daisies, some that looked like fuzzy/hairy cotton candy, some that resembled yellow orchids...   Then, behind the trees, you could tell there was a clearing and... voilà!  the viewing area!   to probably the most stunning view of this part of the trip:  on the far left, Peyto Glacier; Peyto Creek flowing from the glacier and elegantly feeding into the impossibly blue Peyto Lake, from which the Mistaya River flowed into the distance, carrying with it the unusual blue water...  If you go to Banff National Park, I'd say this is an absolute, total must.  You might have to endure busloads of other visitors but, if you're patient, the tour groups tend not to linger too much and sooner or later you have the place to yourself and a few other quiet visitors.  Yes, I do edit my photos.  But only to make them appear more like what my eyes saw.  So yes, that was the lake's colour.  Precisely.   Just saying.

Fed up with the pretty pictures?  We're almost done!   And I promise, no more lakes.  Instead:  rivers!   Like that river I mentioned above, the Mistaya.   Further north there is a short hike from the parkway  down into the Mistaya Canyon, where the Mistaya has been carving fantastic smooth shapes into the stone to get through.   The super cold, raging water was too much of a temptation and I had to get my hands in it (from a very safe, very flat, very calm spot, at my husband's request, LOL).  Freezing! But it was a very sunny, warm day, so it was actually very refreshing to put my wet hands on my neck!  My neck has never felt purer water, probably!  The photo may require some interpretation, I realize:  so, in the centre, you have the river coming towards you, and the rocks you see at the bottom centre is the canyon that the river has been carving for millennia.  The photo's taken from a footbridge just over the canyon.     

Closer to our destination for the day we arrived at Howse Pass.  A place of significance for native Canadians, and a pass linking the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, some might think it lacked the dramatic colour and shapes of the other places we had seen, yet that was exactly made it the more interesting to me.   The subdued colour of the river, the broad expanse, the peace...  I know nothing of the reasons native Canadians would hold this place as significant, but I no doubt could agree with them just by looking at it...

LASTLY (at least picture-wise!), the crossing down into the valley, by the river, and up again into the mountains, before we reached our destination for the day.   When we parked the car at the viewing point and looked back, my jaw dropped.  I mean, the road had been a joy.  But for the view of the road to be so striking too?  I tried to get the colours right, but there was just too much light, but if you look at the part of the road that winds into the mountain valleys, please picture a gray-blue river right by the parkway.  Thanks. 

And that was how we spent our first two days in Banff National Park.   No wonder this park welcomes MILLIONS of tourists a year!  But this was just the beginning: the next part of our trip - the Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park!  I promise to be less linear next time and you promise to keep reading, ok? ;-)

HTO beach

Our urban mini beach in Toronto.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Vegan poutine!

I've had lots of vegan things in Toronto.  'Bout time I found vegan poutine!  I had with me a non-vegan, and he said he wouldn't have known that wasn't real cheese if he hadn't read it.  Being an absolute ignoramus on poutine, all I can say is it was REAL good.  Good job, Poutini's House of Poutine.