Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Canadian Rockies

I am often asked, what trip is my favorite.  Impossible to answer.  They are all so different.  Some offer amazing scenery, others are so historically significant and yet others have a charm unlike any other place in the world.  So today, I will talk about my favorite scenic trip, so far, and that is the Canadian Rockies.

This trip is so spectacular that even though I rarely go somewhere twice (the world is such a big place with so much to see), I did return here.  The easiest way to get here is to fly into Calgary, Alberta and drive to Banff.  The sight of the enormous Rocky Mountain range rising out of the prairie is so awe inspiring that I had to pull of the road and take it all in on my first visit.  I highly recommend the experience.  Banff itself, is a bit of a tourist trap with accommodations that range from luxury (the Banff Springs hotel, is just gorgeous) to budget hostels.  It also boasts loads of restaurants, souvenir shops and of course the cable car ride up the mountain to enjoy spectacular views.  On my first visit, we witnessed a large elk just strolling down the main street, something that it did with some regularity, according to the locals.  While in the area, you might want to take a ride over to Lake Louise and have lunch on the beautiful emerald green lake which is unlike anything you have ever seen.
Lake Louise

But the real scenery is yet to come when you travel the Icefields Parkway to Jasper.  On my second trip with my husband and kids, it was so fun to watch their faces as they experienced this magnificent place for the first time.  Just when you think you have seen the best there is to see, you come around a bend in the road to see something even more amazing.  You will see glacier after glacier along the way and then you will come upon the Athabasca glacier, the Granddaddy of them all.  Not only is it incredible in its size and beauty but you can go up and walk on it, if you so desire.  A huge Sno-cat with wheels that are taller than the average man, will transport you to the top.  Drink the pure water of the glacier, it has no taste whatsoever because it has yet to mix with the minerals on its way to the oceans.  It is also said to add 10 years to your life, so I guess I am good for 20 more.  This particular glacier is a triple continental divide with water that originates there going to the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Arctic.  Sadly, global warming is effecting the glacier and though it continues to move at a breathtakingly slow pace, it is losing density, some say it will be gone in a generation.

Crow's Foot Glacier

The Snocat atop the glacier
Freezing atop the glacier (of course, it is a gigantic ice cube!)

Jasper is a lovely little town at the northernmost end of the Icefields Parkway.   Again, the accommodations run from luxury to budget.  My personal favorite is Becker's Chalets, just outside of town.  I have stayed there twice and it is a lovely place with a great little restaurant.  My first visit there was just two of us but on our second we had two of our kids with us and they have rooms that are plenty big enough for a family.  Some have kitchens and fireplaces which is just perfect for the location.  Though I confess, it has been a few years since my last visit, Becker's continues to get good reviews from guests. Just down the road from Becker's is Athabasca Falls.  Take some time and see them, they are stunning.

My twins at Athabasca Falls

The wildlife viewing on this trip is just fantastic.  On my two visits there I have seen elk, moose, deer, Bighorn sheep, Mountain sheep, marmots, otter, beaver and Black bear along with the everyday critters that inhabit most of North America like squirrels, skunks and chipmunks.  Seeing these incredible animals in their native habitat is a memorable experience. When close to them, you have to exercise caution as they are truly wild animals and as such, are unpredictable, especially the bear.  I have seen people do some pretty foolish things while trying to capture the perfect picture.  So enjoy it, but always be smart and careful.
Bighorn Sheep

If you are a bit adventurous, join a rafting trip and ride the whitewater on the Athabasca or the Fraser River. I have done this many times, in different parts of the world but this was the only time that I had to wear a wetsuit in the warm summer months because the rivers are glacier fed and are very cold. They are often said to be "drown proof" because the water is so cold you would suffer from hypothermia before you would drown.....such a lovely thought.  Never deters me though, I love the thrill of riding the whitewater on the raging rivers.  Most outfitters take every safety precaution and know exactly what they are doing and I have never felt unsafe.  It is a heart pounding thrill ride and I just love it.

This is a trip that is about the scenery and the wildlife.  Take your hiking boots and try one of the hundreds of trails available.  Take a boat ride out on one of the emerald green lakes or rent a canoe and paddle down a river.  Enjoy the great outdoors and the magnificence of nature.  Nowhere, is it quite as spectacular, as in the Canadian Rockies.

Until next time, safe travels!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Seville, Spain-Feria de Abril (April Fair)

What a spectacular explosion of color and culture and food!  Unlike anything that I have ever seen before.  Two weeks after Easter, in the beautiful city of Sevilla, the city comes alive with horse drawn carriages decorated with flowers and ribbons.  Riding in them are the people of Sevilla, all wearing traditional Spanish clothes.  The women have beautiful dresses and elaborate combs in their hair.  It is just an amazing sight to see.  The men wear their short bolero jackets and hats and are typically astride beautiful horses all decked out for the occassion.  It is a splendid celebration of their culture; their food, their drink, their music and their way of life and it is so exciting to be welcomed at their party.

It is believed that the fair evolved from a cattle fair that started in 1847.  The party loving people of Sevilla started erecting tents that became known as "casetas" for the local dignitaries to hang out in during the fair.  The number of casetas grew year after year until the 1920s when Feria de Abril had grown into Sevilla's largest annual event.

In the 70's the city opened its current fairground.  It is an enormous site that last year housed more that 1000 casetas and is known as 'Real de la Feria" and right next door is "Calle del Infierno" which is full of your typical carnival rides and circus show.  La Feria begins on a Monday at Portada which is the entrance to the fairground.  The Mayor of Seville switches on thousands of lights at midnight and let the party begin!!   The fairgrounds teem with traditionally dressed Sevillanas every day of the fair and they party well into the early morning hours.  It is very understandable that the poet Byron when referring to Seville said it was "famous for oranges and women".

The Portada lit up at midnight.
My daughter and I at the Portada on the first day of La Feria.

It always comes as a great surprise to tourists that most of the casetas are privately owned and admission is by invitation only but that doesn't stop us from enjoying ourselves.  There are several public casetas available.  We found the locals very welcoming and song and dance broke out all over the place.  So much fun to be twirled around by handsome Spanish gentlemen on your way to the restroom.

Dancing in the Public Caseta.

Every evening, during LeFeria the year's top bullfights take place at the historic Plaza de Toros. Though  some find this tradition of Spanish culture objectionable, I attended with an open mind to try and understand its evolution and appeal.  Take the time to tour the Museum dedicated to the bullfights before you go to the fight, it helps you to understand what is happening as you watch.   It is not dissimilar to an American baseball game.  Music is playing, fans are yelling, booing and cheering the matadors as they fight the bull. It can be a bit disconcerting when the massive bulls get too close to their human counterparts and a bit gruesome when they kill the bull but I embraced the experience as an important part of the Spanish culture and never regretted attending.  If you wish to enjoy this experience, get your tickets early because they sell out every night during La Feria.

This is one of the best cultural experiences that I have had abroad and I encourage anyone visiting the lovely country of Spain at that time of year, to take a few days and enjoy this truly unique Spanish event.

Until next time, safe travels!