France And Euro 2016 – Chamonix

Chamonix

If you’ve been following this blog, this is a continuation to my last travel post ( Link : France And Euro 2016 – Marseille). From Marseille, we headed to Chamonix. A small and beautiful town, near the border of Switzerland. One can opt for either of the two ways to get here:

  1. Take a flight or train to Geneva and hire a cab or a car from Geneva to Chamonix.
  2. Or one could opt for a car from wherever they are to Chamonix. The journey is about 515 kms or a 4 and a half hour drive incase you don’t take a stop in between. Being near the border of Switzerland, the roads are very scenic with snowclad mountains and lush forests.

The taxi ride from Geneva to Chamonix.

We opted for the former, all thanks to the Car Rental agency swiping our card multiple times and causing it to block instantly. Taking the train is slightly complicated cause you need to change trains, and take care of your luggage simultaneously. Also, since we bought tickets at the last hour, it was pretty expensive for us.

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As far as the train changes go, from Marseille we travelled to Lyon, and then changed trains from Lyon to Geneva, followed by a taxi that charged us about €300. The train takes about 5 hours to get you there, however it was the famous TGV that we were in, so that was another small experience added to this EuroTrip. And since we were spending a great deal of money anyway, we decided to spoil ourselves with first class tickets at an additional €25.

About Chamonix, it is something I would describe as a small village, not even a town.But surrounded by mountains, including The Mont Blanc; it manages to attract a great deal of tourists.

Evening and sunrise view of The Mont Blanc from our room.

We checked into “Des Balcons Du Savoy” which is a 4 start hotel at the edge of town, about a 7 minute walk from the centre, which is why it is cheaper than other similar hotels in the area. The hotel was comfortable, and the rooms very spacey. The highlight for us though, were the windows facing the Mont Blanc and the automatic blinds. You’re probably thinking whats so good about automatic blinds, and let me tell you; wanting to open the blinds right after waking up to get a sunrise view, or being able to control them from your bed after a tiring days affairs has its own satisfaction.

img_4700.jpgChecking in, we immediately set out to explore the town. It is a very cute town, with very small structures, not bigger than 2-3 storeys, except some hotels. A town that reminded me of my time in Whistler,Canada. Cafes everywhere, branded shops to shop from, sports stores to buy high-end trekking gear from, and countless restaurants offering a number of cuisines, bakeries and dessert houses. That macaroon tower had me swooning, despite never having tried one back then!

This place is like heaven for people who like outdoor sports especially cycling and trekking thanks to the enormous number of sports stores offering the most premium quality equipments. Things I’ve literally never come across back in Mumbai.

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There’s a small river that flows through the town giving you a DDLJ feeling (Every bollywood fan will get this!). This town also has a small casino, but the tables open only after 08:30. However, it only has roulette, blackjack and slot machines to offer. However it’s fun for newbies, as minimum bet starts at as low as €2.

A very important thing to note for people who do not have a lot of time in Chamonix is to cover the following things, as far as sightseeing goes.

  1. The Gondola for Aiguille Du Midi
  2. Train ride to Mer de Glace

Thanks to a lot of tourists and long queues, it takes almost a day to cover either of those. So its better to start off as early as possible and try to cover The Aiguille Du Midi first, since that is much more beautiful and time consuming.

The first gondola starts at 6:30am and there’s one gondola every 30 or 15 mins depending on the number of tourists. We took a gondola at 7:30 and went up pretty fast. There are a lot of things to do up there.

One of the stations, and a gondola for skiers. However, it was under maintenance when we went.

A few stations at different levels, to look at the Alps, with panoramic views, etc. There are a lot of steps to climb, from one station to another; however, the air above is thin which may get you exhausted pretty quickly. There’s a cafeteria at the top which serves good food. There are ample souvenirs in the gift shop, right outside the cafe. I haven’t come across similar souvenirs anywhere else so if you like something, you should probably buy it. There is also a gift store right outside the gondola station at ground level.

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On one of the stations is a glass cabin that is made, which overlooks the Alps. To get there, you have to take a lift that takes you from 3777m to 3842m. It is crowded above and we had a queue of about 10 minutes, however by the time we were done, the queue extended to over a 30 minute wait. All thanks to our early start to the day.

There is a separate gondola for anyone who wants to get a close look at the Mont Blanc (the one that was under maintenance) but there’s no other way for tourists to get there. There’s a path for all those mountain climbers and snow Trekkers so if that is something you’re interested in, and have experience in, you could get the necessary equipment and do it. It looked pretty fun, and partly dangerous/risky.

From there, we headed to our train ride. The train ride takes you to the Mer de Glace. There are again two ways to go there, first being the train and the second being a trek from Aiguille Du Midi.

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The Aiguille Du Midi gondola is divided into two parts, and the trek starts from the lower, or the first stop. After reaching Mer de Glace, one should take the smaller gondola to go towards the ice caves.

After the gondola, take the stairs to get to the ice caves. This is very tiring as there are a total of 435 stairs(counted specifically and specially) downwards to get to the ice cave and the same upwards to get to the gondola.

The ice caves are beautiful and something I haven’t seen ever before; inside with a lot of lights that are put up, don’t expect too much as the whole journey in the ice caves is about 5-6 minutes, however it’s something rare to see and hence worth it.

Inside The Ice Caves.

After coming back up, we took the train back to Chamonix. The rest of the day was spent in resting as the first half got too tiring and exhausting. In the evening we set out to see the town again. For those who want to shop, all the shops close by 7:30pm so adjust accordingly. The next day, we set out for some trail cycling and exploring.

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You can hire two kinds of bikes:

  1. A motored electrical bike.
  2. A normal geared bike.

I’d recommend the bike since its almost 1/5th the effort, and allows you to enjoy the scenery and not kill yourself, peddling over the hills. The trails are beautiful, going through the woods and across streams and rivers. We found a beautiful spot to take some really beautiful photos.

It was serene, enjoying the blue skies, the quiet with only the sound of the stream. One of the highlights of the trip. So very peaceful.

I hope you like this post. Feel free to like, share and subscribe to this website. I’d also love to hear from you via comments.

Thank you and regards,

The Travellothoner.

France And Euro 2016 – Paris

This one has been long overdue. I went to France back in July 2016 for the Euros. A classic example of sports tourism. Given the economics and numbers behind such events, it is not surprising the amount of bids a country is willing to make and the lengths they’re ready to go to, to host them. The numbers will simply blow your minds off!

In general, we began our trip with Paris and also covered Nice, Marseille, Chamonix and then came a full circle back to Paris. We also saw two matches :

  1. Spain Vs. Italy
  2. Poland Vs. Portugal (The Eventual Champions)

Paris

We landed at the Paris De Gaul airport. The airport in itself seems like a huge building with a lot of debris. Barely painted and in a way unfinished or a work in progress. I wasn’t able to conclude if it was under renovation or the idea was to keep it raw. The city itself being known for its beauty, would people really judge it based on its airport? Connected by a network of long escalators, and through immigration, we were in Paris. With the country to explore, some matches to be watched, some adventures to look forward to and the beginning of a memory which would last a lifetime.

Paris was the only city where we lived in a hotel. Although the best and the most cost efficient accommodation is always going to be a hostel (if you’re not travelling with family or want a certain level of privacy or luxury). Ours was a simple 10 minute walk away from The Eiffel.

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Standing in its supremacy, The Eiffel. The tallest structure in the city.

It is very difficult to spot large buildings in this city except certain areas where there are abundant high-rises. Most of the buildings are limited to 5-6 floors, which if noticed is quite evident throughout the city. The colour for each structure is also almost even, without any major contrasts. One will also find cute cafes on every corner of the street and all of them prefer to have more outdoor seating with a view of the city, than indoors.

After checking into our hotel and freshening up, we set out for what was the closest and the most obvious choice :

The Eiffel Tower

There isn’t much to portray in words if I were to give an extensive description of The Eiffel. It is beautiful, it is majestic and it is huge. However personally, I did not find it as extraordinary as I had heard from the people who’ve already seen it. I mean, movies always made it look like The Eiffel was capable of making you feel a certain way, but it didn’t actually. In some ways, it is as impressive to me as say The Macau Tower, which gives you an overall view of a beautiful city.

I don’t mean that as an insult or a knock on this wonder, it has it’s own charm. But you just expect more out of it, after all that you’ve heard and seen in the movies.

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But I have to admit, it is a symbol of love and at the end of the day, you want to visit this place with your partner because you just don’t want to be left out (and also, HOLLYWOOD!!!);

And let’s face it, who doesn’t want to kiss their partner under what Hollywood describes as the biggest, most significant and probably the most beautiful building in the city of love!!

Every romantic on this planet has wanted to live a scene out of those countless movies that capture this structure.

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View from The Eiffel, The Euro ’16 Fan Park.

At The Eiffel, there are 3 viewing galleries at 3 different levels, the third and the topmost level having limited tickets. I’d recommend one take a quick ticket and hurry up to the second level. From there, rush and grab a ticket and get to the third. That usually has a long queue and if you’re one of the unlucky few, the elevators might be under maintenance , which would lead to them shutting down the third level altogether (We were amongst the unlucky ones to have missed it).

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Place du Trocadero, view of the other side from the second level.

Irrespective of that, the view from the second level is breathtaking and it gets quite windy, so you might want to carry a cap or any other precautionary measures if you’re very particular about your photos.

A time lapse from atop The Eiffel

Sacre-Coeur

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From the Eiffel, we headed towards Sacre coeur. It is a church on the hill on almost the other side of Paris. Thanks to being on top of the hill, one can also see a great part of the city from here. There are also various live street musicians playing in the area and the place is always crowded. The place is surrounded with small gardens and lawns and it is also a place for the locals to go and relax after work.

View of Paris from Sacre Coeur

In every city, there’s always two ways to explore. The tourist way or the traveller way. It is very easy to list down some places and sights, see them in a hurry and get it over with. The other way is to actually try to walk around everywhere. Paris and the whole of Europe actually, their beauty lies in its intricate buildings and the streets and the people.

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The Louvre is the most-visited museum in the world, with more than 10 million visitors in 2018. The former royal palace is now the magnificent home of some of the world’s most iconic artworks (ever hear of the Mona Lisa?). Walking through the halls where Louis XIV once strolled (he lived here before moving to Versailles), surrounded by the most famous art on earth, is an overwhelming experience.

A museum since 1793, the Louvre exhibits over 35,000 artworks spread across 75,000 square feet, with a collection that sweeps from antiquity through the mid 19th century. The Louvre complex also includes the Tuileries gardens, which are dotted with sculptures and a lovely spot to take a stroll. A visit to the Louvre could easily fill an entire day (or week!), so preplanning what you’d like to see in advance with the help of the museum’s website is a good idea.

The Louvre is easily one of the top tourist attractions in Paris, and you’ll encounter crowds of all types coming through. Either start your day early in the morning with a timed ticket or go in the evening, when the crowds are typically lighter. The museum offers themed guided tours that can be reserved in advance, if you’d like some help navigating the vast collection.

800px-Paris_July_2011-27aAll the information below these forms of art is in French, so it’s better to know the language or take a machine translator. There are batches for entry to The Louvre every hour, so it’s better if you book tickets online and manage time accordingly.

It has 3 separate sections. After spending a good 5 hours in The Louvre, and hurrying through it, we left for The Arc De Triumph.

Notre-Dame de Paris

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Notre-Dame de Paris also known as Notre-Dame Cathedral or simply Notre-Dame, is a medieval Catholic cathedral of Paris, France. The cathedral is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, and it is among the largest and best-known church buildings in France, and in the world.

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Notre-Dame de Paris was among the first buildings in the world to use the flying buttress. A buttress is a structure of stone or brick built against a wall to strengthen or support it. And a flying is a buttress slanting from a separate column, typically forming an arch with the wall it supports. The building was not originally designed to include the flying buttresses around the choir and nave but after the construction began, the thinner walls grew ever higher and stress fractures began to occur as the walls pushed outward. In response, the cathedral’s architects built supports around the outside walls, and later additions continued the pattern.

Champs-Élysées

If you are one of those that thinks too highly of the 5th Avenue in New York, or Orchard Road in Singapore, this one is for you. Its easily one of the most crowded and touristic places in the city. It easily has the best, most branded stores to shop from. Its also the one where Tour De France ends. And connects The Louvre to Arc De Triomphe.

Arc De Triomphe

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The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile is one of the most famous monuments in Paris, standing at the end of the Champs-Élysées at the center of Place Charles de Gaulle, formerly named Place de l’Étoile — the étoile or “star” of the juncture formed by its twelve radiating avenues.

The Arc de Triomphe is accessible by the RER and Métro, with exit at the Charles de Gaulle—Étoile station. Because of heavy traffic on the roundabout of which the Arc is the centre, it is recommended that pedestrians use one of two underpasses located at the Champs Élysées and the Avenue de la Grande Armée. A lift will take visitors almost to the top – to the attic, where there is a small museum which contains large models of the Arc and tells its story from the time of its construction. Another 46 steps remain to climb in order to reach the top, the terrasse, from where one can enjoy a panoramic view of Paris.

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Photo Courtesy : paris-paris-paris.com

Italy Vs. Spain at Stade de France

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More than the match, it is the buildup to the match which was the most exciting. Personally, this was the first time I was going to see a professional football match live in a stadium, and had been waiting for it since months. The atmosphere was simply electric. We saw fans already picking sides and cheering right inside our hostel. The respective nationals out on the streets with their load of banter and cheers and jeers too. Some of them were all hearts and fun, and sometimes you could sense the rising hostility amidst the fans, like a cracker waiting for a spark.

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There weren’t any, or barely a few small ones which were managed by the police anyway. As far as picking the compartment in the trains went, one would have to pick carefully or they could end up with the wrong set of fans. Scary! After getting inside, the match was pretty one sided. The Spanish fans weren’t as vocal so Italy won that battle too! The organisers were courteous enough to provide for the match ticket as a pass for public transport.

Coming back to the hotel, we packed up; looking forward to our 6am flight the following day, to take us to the beautiful and amongst my personal favourites, the city of Nice.

Until next time,

The Travellothoner

Leh Ladakh – A Mountainous Desert

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Day 1

Disclaimer : We went to Leh with the intention of participating in The Half Marathon that happens at 11142 Feet. Read all about the marathon here and check out my experience of the marathon here.

The trip started with a flight from Mumbai to Ladakh with a small layover in Delhi of about 40 minutes.

Take my word for it, do what you have to, but make sure you end up on a window seat. That Himalayan view is something you won’t see anywhere else! Those white clouds like balls of cotton, clean brown mountains with literally no vegetation and then the snow clad mountain ranges.

Pro Tip : When you take a window seat, make sure you don’t take one in the centre of the plane, or else your view will be blocked by the wings or propellers.

 The landing at the Leh airport is also very fascinating. The airport area is a flat plain situated right between a range of mountains tied to each other like the knots in your earphones just after you take them out from your pocket. One thing to note is, photography is not allowed anywhere near the airport! Phones or memory cards can be confiscated or you’ll bee made to delete your photos.

The Ladakh Airport, more like The Ladakh Air Strip.

There are no taxi meters here, prepaid taxis is the only way, but the prices are standard, so no chances of one getting cheated. One has to buy a pass from a ticket window and then head to their respective taxi!

There are two main area for stay:

  1. Somewhere near the Changspa Village
  2. The Leh Market
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We were staying in Evam Chunka, exactly opposite bobs cafe. It’s a good hostel/hotel and very reasonably priced! I personally recommend it cause the caretakers/owners are really nice people who will serve you with mint tea/coffee or normal tea right outside your room.

As far as acclimatisation and care for the first day go, one must just drink plenty of water (4-6 liters) and avoid any kind of physical exertion in the first few hours and neither go to sleep. Avoid sleeping even if you’re tired from your journey or sleep deprived due to an early morning flight. The reason being that the air is too thin and your body hasn’t gotten used to it yet; and sleeping in this situation would mean inadequate oxygen supply which would only cause severe headaches.

The reason behind drinking excessive water is that the body uses the excess water in the system to absorb and make up for the lack of oxygen in the air. In case of a headache, take a crocin (cause we are more accustomed to it) and not diamox (despite it being recommended for acclimatisation at high altitudes, diamox takes a few hours to show results, also, please double your water intake if you’re switching to a diamox routine. I would strongly suggest taking your doctor’s opinion)

While I am not a doctor, I’ve trekked at high altitudes a few times and finished my Leh Marathon without the use of diamox. In my personal opinion, it is not  necessary to take it (unlike a lot of people suggest). Even if you do, start a day before your trip and not after reaching Leh.

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Steps to Shanti Stupa

For lunch, we went to Rice Bowl, a good and peaceful place and one must try the ‘Kashmiri Dum Aloo’ there! As far as mobile networks go, stick to BSNL (surprising, I know!) or Airtel. Cellular data displays 2G, however it is pretty non existent. Most restaurants and cafes have Wi-Fi, with a rotating password that changes everyday.

In the evening, we headed for the stairs of the Shanti Stupa, and marvelled at the shades of sunset. There is also an alternate route to go there via a vehicle, which is towards the other side. The slope is about 1km in length one way, a great place to practice for the marathon.

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View from the top of the steps
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View from the top of Shanti Stupa

We were lucky enough to see a full moon, rise from beyond the mountain, which was magnificent and I was lucky enough to grab that on a time-lapse.

One must be very careful to climb down irrespective of the time of the day, because the steps are uneven and there are no railings whatsoever. It is also a must to carry a powerful torch or use the flash off the phone, for the same.

Reminder : Your phone battery will give up on you a lot faster in cold weather. You won’t realise how it drops from 70% battery to 40% within 30 minutes.

We had dinner at Bob’s, and slept by 9:30 due to excess fatigue and an early running and workout plan the next day.

Day 2

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View from the hill

The next day started at 6am. We freshened up and set out for our morning workout. Through the market, taking the uphill route that goes towards the Khardung La pass, we went up 6kms, rested and did some more light jogging followed by another 6kms downhill on our way back. This was one of the best routes I’ve ever jogged on.

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Runner’s High + The View = Literal Heaven Feels
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A Seat with a view
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During the whole journey, we made sure we hydrated adequately. It is also recommended to buy a cotton mask here, due to a lot of dust. It is available in most stores in the market, and barely costs 50 rupees. However, it is quite uncomfortable especially if you wear specs, since mouth breathing causes it to condense on your glasses (super annoying).

Once back at our hotel, we freshened up and then set out to collect our race bibs. Later we enquired about hiring a car and bikes and headed for lunch.

Important : It is important to note that a permit is required if you’re stepping outside Leh, which includes Pangong Lake, any of the high altitude motorable passes, etc.  which can be done at any travel shop in the market.

Later around 4, we hired 4 Royal Enfields (commonly known as bullets) and set out to the magnetic hill! The route is beautiful, unlike something I’ve ever seen! And the journey takes anywhere between 60-90 minutes. Also worth noting is that the rental companies mess with the ignition so that the bike is unable to go too fast, so if you really want to enjoy your bullet or speed up, figure that out beforehand.

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The magnetic hill and phenomenon is very real and works on a vehicle as big as an army truck! Just 5kms ahead of that, is a sangam of two rivers, also where they take you if you want to do some rafting.

While going to the magnetic hill, one will come across the Patthar Saheb Gurudwara. It has a very interesting story behind it. This place is solely managed by the Army and has the best masala tea in Ladakh. A heaven for tea lovers, who don’t get decent tea in the city!

Day 3

Today early morning, we set out towards the Pangong Lake. We hired a car the previous day, and left Leh at around 8:30am. The distance to the lake is not more than 150kms, however it takes 5-7 hours or sometimes more due to bad roads and depending on traffic(usually an army convoy or too many vehicles on a narrow road) and the climate.

It is totally okay to skip breakfast and leave early, since there is a small strip before the first checking, where one can have breakfast. These places serve delicious Aloo/Cheese/Paneer Parathas with Rajma (Beans) and curd. We could not enjoy as much as we would’ve liked, because the weather switched to extreme cold and snowfall while driving up the hill towards the Changla Pass.

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At Chang La Pass

It is the second highest motorable road, after Khardung La at 17688ft. The air up here is extremely thin and oxygen scarce. So it is advisable to just get down, freshen up, click some photos and leave and not overexert physically.

Ps. Me and a friend went and played with ice for not more than 5 mins and felt nauseous with a head splitting headache right after we got back in the car.

NOTE : IT IS ADVISABLE TO STOP FOR PHOTOS ONLY ON YOUR RETURN JOURNEY BACK FROM PANGONG LAKE, SO THAT YOU CAN REACH THERE ON TIME DURING DAYLIGHT!

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The cold weather continued, and it was super windy at the lake. Usually, it is cold all through the summer months too, however not too windy! After clicking photos at the start of the lake, we headed forward to the Shooting Point as the locals call it (the place where the final scene of 3 idiots was shot) which is a better place to click photos, and then head ahead towards the tents!

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Pangong Lake Shenanigans.

One has three options while coming here :

  1. Leave early morning, visit the lake and come back.
  2. Spend the night at the lake and see the sunrise the next day.
  3. Spend more than one night here.

Note – Last I heard, staying at the Pangong Lake has been discontinued due to the Indo-China Border disputes. I am not certain and would ask you to do your due research beforehand.

If you’re going for option 2, it is advisable to stay in a tent which is about 5-7 kms away from the start of the lake. It is quite economical and one can select a tent based on the luxuries they need.

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That is how option 2 looks.
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Option 2 from the other side.

And if you’re going for option 3, one can opt for proper wooden cabins, that offer a great view of the lake.

It should be noted that the lake area gets colder than Leh city, and hence proper winter wear (preferably snow wear in case of extreme weather) is advised.

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A choice of soup, fried rice and some eggs is all you’ll get near the camp site! One has to drive all the way to the start of the lake for better food! The organizers usually have a campfire at 9:30!

There is nothing else much to do here!

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The Canadian Rockies – Vancouver

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If you haven’t already, please check out our previous pitstop before Vancouver – Whistler here.

Overview:

The Journey :

We left from Whistler and set out for Vancouver. This time we took a stop to visit The Shannon Falls. This fall is quite high. The lower side to the fall is on ground level, and one can hike all the way to the top of the fall, or take a Gondola all the way to the top. We did not have a lot of time on our hands and did not go to the top.

The Shannon Falls

After resuming our journey, we set out on our way to Vancouver via the famous ‘Sea To Sky Highway’. This route has the blue sea on its right, then a small hill where lies the road, and immediately big mountains to the left of the road. So while watching it from a boat or ship, it seems one can start their climb from the sea on to the hills and make their way to the heavens via the mountains. Hence the name.

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A glimpse of the Sea To Sky Highway. Disclaimer : I do not own this photo, this was taken via google to give a better view of the highway.
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Vancouver City

Image taken from tourismvancouver.com

Vancouver has a total population of about 7-8 lakh people and is divided into 5 parts : Downtown, Surry, North Vancouver, Richmond and the West Vancouver. The Western region is meant mainly only for powerful government officials, politicians and VIPs we were told.

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The local transport includes taxis, electrical buses and trains. The electrical bus run with a wire connected above like trams and the routes are divided into zones. Zone 1 has a cost of 2.75 CAD for 2 hours, unlimited transits within that time. Zone 1 and 2 at 4CAD and Zone 1,2 and 3 at 5.5 CAD. And on public holidays and weekends, it’s 2.75CAD flat. The taxis start at 3.20 CAD. One thing to note is that although traveling is cheaper, the wait time is too high. Asking a cab to wait for 5 minutes may cost you more than the ride itself. Ideally it’s recommended you give that cab up and take another one. But if you’re not so lucky, you won’t find another one for sometime. Every cab is a 4 seater by compulsion and the bigger cabs have a wheelchair access too.

One thing about Vancouver is that there are nearly three of every big hotel here. Three Fairmonts, one in downtown, other on the waterfront and the third near the airport. Hyatt, Four Seasons, etc follow a similar trend.

One thing about Vancouver (and this is a very personal opinion) is it seemed very similar to Chicago. If someone were to drop me in the middle of Vancouver and say it’s Chicago I’d believe them until I see some details that suggest otherwise. I can’t really put a finger on why I felt it was similar, but if you feel the same way, do hit me up!

Unlike the other previous places on our trip so far, Vancouver has a lot to offer in terms of shopping. The Robson street has the best brands and shops, of which majority have discounts going on this time of the year (June – July). One can also find cool stores on Burrard Street or any other cross street around Robson. There’s also an outlet mall near the airport which is said to be good, although that’s word of mouth and I avoided going there when I had the chance to just explore the city.

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Fly Over Canada

The round globe on the right is FlyOver Canada. Image taken from flexport.com

FlyOver Canada utilizes state-of-the-art technology to give you the feeling of flight. You will hang suspended, feet dangling, before a 20-meter spherical screen while a film will be played. The film manages to whisk you away on an exhilarating 8-minute journey across Canada, from east to west. Special effects, including wind, mist and scents, combine with the ride’s motion to create an unforgettable experience.

It is important to note there are specific show timings, although they range throughout the day. One can also buy tickets online, in advance. It usually has a queue too. So spare about an hour or so for the experience.

It is located in the downtown area, by the pier. And piers have always been wonderful places to walk, or sit and enjoy some food with wonderful cold winds and a view of the sea. You can also see the cruises getting docked, people and goods entering in and getting out.

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The Butchart Garden

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This is a very famous tourist spot near Victoria, on Vancouver Island. The garden has been designated a National Historic Place of Canada. The park is huge, and has over a million visitors each year. If visiting from Canada, one can take a ferry. Don’t worry about your vehicle, as an additional ticket will allow you to take your vehicle along in the ferry. The ferry is scenic, although time consuming. One can also hire a small sea plane or speedboat from the harbor.

It plays host to hundred and thousands of flowers, plants and birds; of all colors, shapes and sizes. It has various activities inside for kids and food stalls too. One can also spot a small pond with a beautifully dancing fountain. The ideal time to visit is between May and August. However, May and August being extremes. A lot of variety of roses and flowers do not bloom completely until June, and start to wither by August as winter starts setting in.

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Capilano Suspense Bridge

The Suspension Bridge

One of the most famous places to visit in Vancouver is the Capilano. That’s somewhat a garden or a museum or a small natural wildlife park in itself. It has six activities that include a Suspension Bridge over the river, Suspension Bridges connecting trees, Two Small Trails, She Cliffwalk, Story Centre and The Merchandise Shop. One can find a lot of varied vegetation inside, a treat for people who love forests and vegetation. The suspension bridges are fun to walk on and quite unique.

Capilano Suspension Bridge crosses to towering evergreens, cedar-scented rainforest air and Treetops Adventure, 7 suspended footbridges offering views 110 feet above the forest floor. Cliffwalk follows a granite precipice along Capilano River with a labyrinth-like series of narrow cantilevered bridges, stairs and platforms and only 16 anchor points in the cliff supporting the structure!

The Cliffwalk

This heart-stopping cliffside journey takes you through rainforest vegetation on a series of unobtrusive cantilevered and suspended walkways jutting out from the granite cliff face above Capilano River to previously unexplored areas of the park. Not for the faint of heart, it is high and narrow and, in some sections, open grated walkways is all that separates guests from the canyon far below.

Stanley Park

Image courtesy : wikipedia.com
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Stanley Park is a magnificent green oasis in the midst of the urban landscape of Vancouver. It is 405-hectare natural West Coast rainforest and enjoys scenic views of water, mountains, sky, and majestic trees along Stanley Park’s famous Seawall. Discover kilometres of trails, beautiful beaches, local wildlife, great eats, natural, cultural and historical landmarks, along with many other adventures. The park offers a wide range of unforgettable experiences for all ages and interests, including Canada’s largest aquarium.

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The famous Rogers Arena, just off Robson Street, home to the Vancouver Canucks.

Gastown

Designed and engineered in such a way that the steam accumulates and blows sharply every hour, and the whistles last for a whole 10 seconds. Gastown’s most famous landmark is the steam-powered clock on the corner of Cambie and Water Street. It was built in 1977 to cover a steam grate, part of Vancouver’s distributed steam heating system, as a way to harness the steam and to prevent street people from sleeping on the spot in cold weather. One can also find a lot of Gift Shops around this area and the Maple Syrup being a favorite amongst the tourists.

Ps. Stay tuned to find out about our experience on The Alaskan Cruises.

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The Canadian Rockies – Lake Louise and Jasper National Park

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Continuing forward from our last post The Canadian Rockies – Calgary, Banff National Park, we talk about some places in Banff and then move on to Jasper.

Lake Louise

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A Panorama of The Lake Louise

There is only one hotel in this location, The Fairmont. Developed by CPR(Canadian Pacific Railway), it is a property over 100 years old.

A person has two options for their visit to this place :

Option 1 : Stay for a night at The Fairmont and check out the lake in peace and admire it at different time frames and shades of the sky.

Option 2 : Drive to Lake Louise, spend good time here and drive back to Banff Town.

The magnificent Fairmont Hotel on one side while we’re halfway on the trail besides the lake.
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We were welcomed with a hailstorm here, that lasted for quite a while, after which it got super cold and breezy. After freshening up, we left for a walk at the lake. The Fairmont has been kind enough to prepare a trail besides the lake, that one can take to get to the other end of the lake and explore some waterfalls beyond the lake. The trail is about 2.5kms in length one way.

The water in the lake is different shades of blue, thanks to the varied depths and plants beneath, and beyond the lake are some frozen waterfalls, that are really beautiful!

This is one of those places where you can sit on a bench with a good coffee and gaze at the lake and other surroundings for hours. The lake also offers boating services to get the real experience of the lake, but this is a tricky business, especially during a cloudy day. Something about getting wet with no place to run in zero degrees isn’t too exciting for me.

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The clear water of Lake Louise on a calm sunny day.
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The next day, The Fairmont had the most amazing breakfast buffet, one of the biggest spreads I’ve ever seen!

Jasper National Park :

Overview :

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Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre

From Lake Louise, we left for Jasper Town, but only after taking a couple of pitstops in between.

The first pitstop was the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre. The route being so beautiful as always, we were blessed to see a snowfall. It was really exciting to see a forest full of lush green pine trees turn white within a matter of minutes, a similar sight, just like spraying your pancakes with powdered sugar.

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The Athabasca Glacier

The weather was in a mixed mood. It was a bright sunny day, yet the temperatures were close to 6-7 degree celsius and there was snowfall at the same time.

The icefields are divided into 2 parts again:

1. The Athabasca Skywalk

2. The Colombian Icefields/The Athabasca Glaciers

One must abandon their vehicle in the parking lot, and head towards the center and board the local bus services provided. First leg, The Skywalk is a small semi circled balcony hanging on the top of a valley with glass flooring for one to see down into the valley.

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The Athabasca Skywalk

Personally, this wasn’t a very rich experience for me for a few reasons. The glass flooring is scratched and worn out and one cannot get a very clear view of the depth of the valley, which really robs you off the thrill. Also, I had already been to a similar skywalk in The Grand Canyon and at the top of the Macau Tower which were newer and hence more thrilling experiences for me.

The Icefields
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The second leg, the Icefields. Again, one must take the local bus service which takes you midway to a checkpoint from where, you board an Ice Explorer. It is an extraordinary vehicle, which has tyres of about Five and half feet height, with tractor tyre like grids. One vehicle costs nearly Rs. 8 crores. Find out more about the vehicle here.

There are 23 Ice Explorers in the world, 22 of which are used for the tourists here and the other one in the Antarctic for research purposes. The vehicle takes you to the ice field, where one can play with the ice and then get back in the same vehicle. It is about a 15 minute cycle. There’s no cell reception, so you’re off the grid completely, also, this place is about 7000 feet above sea level.

 Athabasca Falls

Athabasca Falls is a waterfall in Jasper National Park on the upper Athabasca River. A powerful, picturesque waterfall, Athabasca Falls is not known so much for its height of 23 metres (75 ft) as it is known for its force due to the large quantity of water falling into the gorge, which can be substantial even on a cold morning in the fall, when river levels tend to be at their lowest.

The Athabasca Falls
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A Panorama of the Athabasca Fall Canyon
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Sunwapta Falls

Sunwapta Falls is a pair of waterfalls of the Sunwapta River located in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. The falls have a drop of about 18.5 metres (61 feet). Sunwapta is a Stoney language word that means “turbulent water”. The falls is most spectacular in the late spring when the spring melt is at its peak.

The Sunwapta Falls

Jasper Town

Jasper is a small beautiful town in itself. It has a population of about 3000-3500 people. The surplus population here simply comprises of tourists or are people on seasonal employment thanks to the surplus of tourists. Snow clad mountains all around, the sunrise and sunsets in these towns are so pretty, one cannot get enough of it.

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A Street From Jasper
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Banff and Jasper are like those small happy and peaceful towns from animated cartoons or movies. They have their own small school, their own markets and are completely self sustained. Most of the locals here know each other, mainly because the town is so small and limited. Although the weather is like all of Canada, upto -40 celsius in January and 25-26 degrees in June.

May to August is the most ideal time for tourists here. Most roads in Canada run through forests or national parks, so its quite normal to see a foxes, cougars, deers, elks, etc.

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Fun Fact : There are some specific types of flowers and other kinds of vegetation that grow specifically besides the roads, which is the food of choice for the bears right before they go into hibernation. So it is quite common to find a bear running along the road while driving.

The Pyramid Lake

We made stops at the Pyrmaid Lake, Patricia Lake and Maligne Canyon. It gets the name from a small island within the lake that is the shape of a pyramid. A small bridge has been made to go on to the island.

The Patricia Lake
The Maligne Canyon
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Patricia Lake is a smaller lake, again with beautiful mountains on each side and water as blue as it can be. The route to The Maligne Canyon is through a small trail. The path goes along a canyon and a couple of small waterfalls. It is a mile to the lower falls and a couple of miles to the upper falls. There are more than 4 entries and exits to this area, so one must remember their path while going back. Take the wrong path and you’d end up in the wrong parking lot, hours from where your car is parked.

There’s some rafting and boating activities in Jasper, although it is operational only during June and July, to avoid the super chilling water. The route from Jasper to Whistler is about 13-14 hours. So we ended up taking a nights stay in Kamloops.

Check out our stay and experience in Kamloops and whistler here!

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The Canadian Rockies – Calgary, Banff National Park

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Calgary

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View from the flight between Calgary and Seattle

Note : If you want to read an overview of my journey through The Canadian Rockies, you can check out my previous article here.

My Canadian Journey started from Seattle. and taking a small flight to Calgary. Calgary does not have much to offer.

Simple flat lands and a downtown area. And there’s nothing too impressive about the downtown area, and there’s grasslands but scarce in trees. Getting lunch in Calgary, we set off to our first main location and the start of the rockies, Banff.

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Banff National Park

Overview :

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  • The Banff Town : Walk through the picturesque town of Banff and soak in the hustle bustle of the area. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes to grab lunch here.
  • The Bow Falls : The Bow Falls is not too extraordinary, a simple height of 10 – 12 meters. What makes it really beautiful is the vegetation around and the crystal clear blue water. The highlight for us was a beautiful sunny day at around 14 – 15 degrees.
  • Gondola Ride to The Sulphur Mountain Range : The main attraction being The Samsun Peak, the tallest amongst this range. There’s two ways to go on this peak, one can take the Gondola, or trek all the way to the top! It would make for a beautiful 4 – 5 hour trek!
  • Short Boat Ride on Lake Minnewanka : Minnewaka is the largest lake in Banff. Expect incredible mountain scenery, rocky cliffs,  and emerald green waters. If you’re lucky you might spot grizzly bears and bald eagles too!
  • Moraine Lake : Moraine Lake is a glacially fed lake in Banff National Park, 14 kilometres outside the Village of Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada.
  • Lake Louise : The water in the lake is different shades of blue, thanks to the varied depths and plants beneath, and beyond the lake are some frozen waterfalls, that are really beautiful. (Check out in detail in the next post)
  • Emerald Lake : Although a part of Yoho National Park, it is only 73kms from Banff and really beautiful. (Check out in detail in the next post)
  • Johnston Canyon: Situated half an hour away from Banff on Bow Valley Parkway, this is a really nice, albeit crowded, hike through a gorge. It’s an easy trail to the Lower Falls, and if you want moderate exercise, make your way to the Upper Falls. (Check out in detail in the next post)

Author’s Note :

The Banff Town

Banff Town at 7 am

Banff is almost a 2 hour journey from Calgary. This route isn’t the most scenic through the journey, but there are some beautiful landscapes and you’d very soon realize there’s something beautiful coming your way. Banff is a really small town, located in Alberta, within the Banff National Park and has a lot of character and color. It is surrounded by snow clad mountains on all sides, and the weather there is anywhere between 10 to -25 degrees. We were lucky enough to go during a warmer season and it wasn’t too windy and a decent jacket did the trick for us.

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Banff Avenue at 4pm

There is one main avenue, known as The Banff Avenue, all the gift shops, restaurants, other shops, hotels and the local school are all on this avenue only. Going straight on this route takes you to The Fairmont Hotel and The Bow Falls. The population of Banff is anywhere between 2000 – 2500 people and one must obtain the permission of the local body before finding a place for residence here. The whole town runs solely on tourism and hence you can expect good hospitality and warm people. We stayed at The Ptarmigan Inn, one of the many hotels located on the Banff Avenue.

Fun Fact : All the crossroads in Banff are named on the local animals found in the area!

The Bow Falls

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The Bow Falls

The Bow Falls is not too extraordinary, a simple height of 10 – 12 meters. What makes it really beautiful is the vegetation around and the crystal clear blue water (which doesn’t seem as special once you go ahead on this trip). The highlight for us was a beautiful sunny day at around 14 – 15 degrees.

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Sulphur Mountains

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View from the gondola

Going forward from the Bow Falls, is another tourist attraction known as The Sulphur Mountains, and the main attraction being The Samsun Peak, the tallest amongst this range. There’s two ways to go on this peak, one can take the Gondola, or trek all the way to the top! It would make for a beautiful 4 – 5 hour trek! Going up from the Gondola, the view is just breathtakingly magnificent. It isn’t too cold on the top, but its very windy and that makes all the difference. One has to climb a total of 257 Steps to get to the top of the Samsun Peak.

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So on top of the peak is a small hut where an old lady used to live all by herself and there’s an exhibition of all of her tools.

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The Sulphur Mountain Range

Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka
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From the mountains, coming back down, we set off towards Lake Minnewanka. It is a huge lake, and a man made glacier lake about 28kms in length and 2kms wide. And the water in summer is around 4 degrees, making it unavailable for water sports. There is small ferry ride on the lake, with the guide telling you about local animals and traditions, and the history behind the great Banff Fire.

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Devil’s Gap at the end of the Minnewanka Lake

Devil’s Gap is a mysterious place. It is also a secretly beautiful place that must be seen to be understood.

Imagine a deep amphitheatre flanked by soaring mountains that trace a dark curving line against the bright blue sky. Green prairie land peers through in the far distance to the east. Picture the bald eagles that are nesting there, the Fairholme wolf pack roaming near the south shore and the occasional bear scaling the slopes of Saddle’s Peak.

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One part of the Devil’s Gap is a glacial path that winds through the far east end of Lake Minnewanka, near Ghost Lakes. The whole area is situated at the lake’s deepest point, 152 metres, and you’d have to travel 30 kilometres deep into the Canadian Rockies backcountry to reach it on foot.

A Still of the beautiful Moraine Lake
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Johnston Canyon

From Banff Town, we set out to our next location which is Lake Louise. It is a beautiful 2 hour drive through the National Highway 1. On the way, we took a pitstop at the Johnston Canyon. By this time, the weather had changed significantly, the clouds came further down, covering half of the mountains and leaving the other half barely visible.

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At the Johnston Canyon, there is a trek to get to the waterfall, divided into two parts :

1. The Upper Falls : This is a 1.5-2 mile upward trek and takes about a couple of hours to get to the top of the fall.

2. The Lower Falls : Less time consuming and easier, and the most ideal for tourists who are short on time.

Due to time constraints, we ended up doing only the lower Falls. It was still a very pretty sight, the fall was about 20-25 meters in height, and one had to enter into a small cave, about 2-3 people at a time, and enjoy the beautiful mist of the fall. I found this really nice video from ‘The Flying Dutchman’ of the Johnston Canyon, click here to see it!

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The route all throughout the journey, is so beautiful and so breathtaking, it just stumps you out. It is said the closer one is to nature, the more in touch he/she is to his/her soul and inner peace. Having experienced that in real, I cannot help but agree with it toally!

It just somehow manages to touch a nerve in your mind that’s usually as intact and out of sight as a bee in a garden of flowers.

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The route along the way!

The mountains, half covered with lush pine trees and the other covered in snow enveloped by a thick group of clouds and add small lakes and streams, with their crystal clear turquoise water to make The Complete Package. I could write a 1000 word essay on it and use the most expensive camera to click pictures, but nothing could do justice to what was experienced by the naked eye.

Fun fact : Alongside roads, you’d also find tracks for the the freight trains and passenger trains for tourists, provided by the Canadian Government for the Canadian Rockies package. These trains range from 4 upto 15 nights covering parts or the whole of the rockies, but are comparatively more expensive than normal road travel.

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Emerald Lake

The Emerald Lake on a bright sunny day in all it’s glory as captured by Audley.

The Emerald Lake in itself is very beautiful. Mountains in the background, the water a beautiful shade greenish blue. The still water makes it look lake it is one big gemstone. During a colder day, it is very common to see a thin sheet of ice covering the water beneath.

Here’s a video to show y’all how it was like a cold rainy day!

The Emerald Lake on a rainy day!
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Find out our experience at Lake Louise and Jasper National Park in our next post!

Note : For more updates, please follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

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The Canadian Rockies – An Overview

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Usually, A trip to Canadian Rockies starts and ends between Banff and Whistler, however the nearest airports to them would be Calgary and Vancouver, and takes about 10-12 days. However, if one is short on time, or wants to explore other parts of Canada, they can cover the whole thing in 7-8 days too. However, to most people, It doesn’t do justice to the expensive flights to go for a period of a week or so. What a normal Tour Operator normally does is start at Calgary, drive you to Banff and across the Red line to Jasper. From Jasper to Whistler is a long 16-18 hour drive, and hence they prefer taking an unnecessary stop at Kamloops. Kamloops doesn’t have much to offer, although I’ll be mentioning things about the city in the following post. So thats basically wasting (not exactly waste because the drives are very scenic, but they get a little old with each day) 2 days in driving.

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Picture Courtesy : National Geographic Expeditions

My ideal travel plan would be : Land in Calgary – Drive to Lake Louise and stay at The Fairmont (Which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Sight) – Drive to Jasper and watch the lakes and falls quickly and then drive back to Calgary and fly to Vancouver – Drive and Stay at Whistler for 3-4 days – Fly back to Vancouver. Efficient planning can help you complete it in 8-9 days. (NOTE : This plan is only for those who want to save time, but isn’t something I would personally recommend.)

One of the most memorable things for me for this trip was the roadtrip. The landscapes so majestic, The nature so beautiful and The weather so perfect! This place makes for an amazing roadtrip, where one is looking for peace of mind and gets lost in nature. You will also find a lot of hikes and trails through your journey or camping sites, if you’re looking for some adventure.

Also, One can see grizzly bears and other animals walking/running along the roads. Some flowers and herbs grow only besides the roads, that make a good feast for these bears before they go into hibernation. The most ideal time to go would be between May and July, Although it starts pouring by June and the cold winters start by August all the way upto March. Here’s an overview of our trip there :

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The Start :

Calgary

The most logical place to start a road trip to Banff and Jasper is Calgary. It is well connected domestically and internationally and is only a short 2 hour drive from the fairytale town of Banff. You could choose to spend a night here or head directly towards Banff. I shall be posting a detailed excerpt of all the locations shortly and add quick links for y’all to navigate through it all, so stay tuned.

Banff National Park

Photo by Marlon Martinez on Pexels.com
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Places to Visit :

Jasper National Park

Places to visit :

The Athabasca Skywalk

Kamloops

Situated at the junction of the North and South Thompson Rivers in the Thompson Valley, Kamloops is the second largest city in the BC Interior with a growing population of 90,000 people. It has a peaceful waterfront and a small artificial pebble beach.

We did not spend much time here, just took an overnight pitstop to break our 13 hour road trip to Whistler into 2 parts. However, if you’re spending time here you can check out their tourism page for more.

Whistler

Peak2Peak Gondola Ride from afar

Whistler is a town north of Vancouver, British Columbia, that’s home to Whistler Blackcomb, one of the largest ski resorts in North America.

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Things to do :

Vancouver

  • Fly Over Vancouver
  • The Butchart Gardens
  • Capilano Suspense Bridge
  • Gas Town
  • Boating, Fishing and Yacht Charters
  • Nightlife
  • Stanley Park
  • Other things

In my following post, I’ll be mentioning my personal experience all throughout the trip. We also took The Alaskan Cruise after covering The Rockies!

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The Beautiful Key Monastery, India

I was just going through my albums from my trip to Leh last year, when I Stumbled on this. Amongst my favourite clicks!

This is the key monastery, which sits atop The Spiti Valley. Probably giving the best view of the valley from above!

You can view he article on my Ladakh trip here : https://thetravellothoner.wordpress.com/2018/01/11/leh-ladakh/

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