"Where is your favourite place?"
The inevitable question I get asked as soon as I reveal I have the travel bug; man is it hard to answer. Maybe even more so that "what do you want for dinner?" Firstly, are we talking about a relaxing break here? A wild adventure? For the rich, fresh food or mesmerising views?
But. As much as I stutter when this question is raised, one place comes immediately to mind that I know truthfully answers it.
It's the place I just can't get out of my head.
Almost three years ago I arrived into Calgary, flustered and exhausted after failing to hire a car for our road trip across the National Park (which you can read about in this post). A long bus trip, night's sleep in a shared dorm and quick maple syrup breakfast later, my friend Beth and I left our hostel doors and stepped out into the mountains. From that moment we were encapsulated.
It was like we'd stepped into the setting of a Brothers Grimm fairytale.
Families holding hands walked through a street of wooden chalets, selling wooden toys and serving waffles on wooden chairs. One, the Grizzly House, fed us a fondue trio. We dipped bread into rich cheese, sizzling buffalo and wild boar into garlic, and fresh fruit into a melted chocolate pot.
If we felt too warm by the cackling fires or needed to walk off a stodgy feast, a trip up to Sulphur Mountain was just a short walk away. The Banff Gondola took us up. Up where all lose their breathe, but not because the air is thin.
I've tried many a time to describe Alberta's beauty. But there just aren't the words. Striking? But so much so that you can not move. Overwhelming? Yes but in the greatest of scales that makes you feel oh so small. So naturally beautiful that words are at a loss? Well yes, yes I suppose that's it.
You just have to see it. And try as I might I captured every angle of mountainous shards and brushed carpet woodland but still could not quite capture its allure. It made me emotional. It made me feel grounded. It made me want to protect it yet I was intimidated by its sheer magnitude. I realised that once experienced, this longing, no lust, for Banff doesn't go away. It's intoxicating.
Drunk on fresh air and a fresh mind, The Banff Upper Hot Springs soothed aching muscles in a 39°C pool, and that was before a deep tissue massage. I don't think my niggling conscience has ever been so silent.
From there we headed to Lake Louise, becoming more inebriated by the second on snowy mountains and glittering lakes, hearty poutine dinners and walks among the pines. We rode horseback to a teahouse atop a mountain where it snowed in the middle of June as I cupped hot chocolate in woollen mittens. Then we trotted back down to sunbathe in canoes across turquoise waters.
Lake Louise's own gondola was paralysing. The vast skyline was just the beginning; we were in bear country. We rode on those chairs round and round, up and down until finally, at last, the passing cable pointed. There he was. Velvet thick fur, a slight hunch and a snarling snout. The great Grizzly.
I don't think I'll ever let go of Banff. It's incomparable. Nowhere is as saturated in colour. Nothing is as grand. No place has before took away my power of speech and yet inspired me to write. There's much more to tell of you Banff...