The day broke with clear skies as we checked out of the Fairmont Banff Springs and boarded a bus to the rail station for our return trip aboard the Rocky Mountaineer. The first leg would take us from Banff to Kamloops, where we would make an overnight stay. The second and final leg would terminate in Vancouver. read more…
Late morning, we drove from the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a beautiful three-hour drive through Jasper National Park into Banff National Park. We were less than a mile from the Jasper lodge when I spotted something black out of the corner of my eye. Bear! David slowed down and pulled to the shoulder of the road. In a lush meadow, which sat about thirty feet below the highway, a lone black bear was foraging. He paid us no mind, busy searching for something to eat. We snapped photos, until six vehicles joined us. I was pleased to see that no one attempted to approach the bear. In fact, everyone spoke in low tones as to not spook him.
At the hotel check-in counter, there seemed to be a problem with our room reservation, so I waited in the lounge area with our roller bags while a guest service employee went to find the hotel manager. Soon thereafter, David waved me over to the registration desk. The manager informed us that since we had “suffered an issue” with the hotel in Vancouver and had booked exclusively with the Fairmont chain on our Canadian trip, they wanted to upgrade our room. David told him that the Fairmont had already done so in Whistler and there was really no need to upgrade us again. But he insisted.
Our impressive two-level accommodation was the Belvedere Suite on the top floor of the hotel, with over a thousand square feet and two private covered balconies—one overlooked the grounds and the other the lake. The spiral staircase in the penthouse suite led to a secluded bedroom, and the luxurious bath with glass walls opened to stunning views of Lake Louise and the Victoria Glacier.
After we settled into our room, we strolled the trails around the hotel and the lake. It pays to do your research before you go, I reminded myself, as I was quite surprised to see Lake Louise covered in ice in May. I learned much later that many visitors plan their trip in early June when the Rocky Mountain lakes thaw—the best time to snap pictures of the turquoise water. The striking blue-green color, also seen in New Zealand’s lakes, comes from silt-like rock flour carried into the lake by ice and snowmelt from the surrounding glaciers. The minute particles of silt become suspended in the water, refracting blue and green wavelengths of light.
Every year, the lake’s thawing is a highly anticipated event with many Fairmont Chateau employees participating in a lake-thawing lottery. Each employee places a small bet and picks a day and time, a.m. or p.m., when he or she thinks the lake will clear of ice. Depending upon the weather patterns, Lake Louise has cleared as early as May 30 and as late as June 17.
For dinner, we ate fondue at Walliser Stube in our hotel and watched the day slip into night over Lake Louise.
For years, a train ride through the Canadian Rockies has been on our bucket list. What reignited this interest was a comment from Diane, who we met at the Hermitage in Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand, in 2014. As I gazed out the windows of the Old Mountaineers’ Cafe, Diane said, “Do you find these mountain peaks impressive?” I replied that I certainly did. She shot back with “Have you seen your Rockies?” I said I had but only certain sections of the range. “The Rockies, now they are impressive,” she informed me.
Diane’s comment revived our desire to see this entire majestic mountain range. We would start with the Canadian Rockies and eventually make our way south. The Rocky Mountains stretch from British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and into northern New Mexico in the United States—for a total of three thousand miles. I’ve seen a portion of the Colorado Rockies, and I’m quite familiar with the southernmost range, which is the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico.
When we returned to the US after our Down Under trip, we began to map out plans for our Canadian rail tour, and the following May (2015) we flew from DFW to Vancouver, BC. On previous stays we booked bed and breakfasts throughout the city, but this time, curious about the Fairmont hotel chain, Dave decided to reserve a Fairmont whenever they were available.
We arrived in Vancouver late on a Friday afternoon, took a leisurely stroll along the wharf, and returned to the Fairmont Waterfront to dress for dinner at Miku Vancouver. We sat on the patio, a tad chilly, but the waitstaff immediately brought a blanket to drape over my legs, and I turned my attention to ordering sushi and hot sake.
After dinner, we took a tour of the Fairmont’s rooftop herb garden and watched the beekeepers tend to the hives, pleased to see Executive Chef Karan Suri’s sustainable creation. And while I am all in favor of minimizing our carbon footprint on the earth, the Fairmont’s sustainability program threw a small wrench into my “good night’s sleep.”
Around midnight, when we were sound asleep, our smoke detector blasted us awake. I went to the window and saw no lights on in the hotel, and the lights in our room weren’t operable. We called the front desk and they asked us if we had read the hotel notice left in our room. Bottom line, we never found a letter in our room stating that for conservation purposes, the electrical system would be shut off and only emergency lighting provided for the rest of the night. Neither one of us had a problem with this. We just wished we had been notified beforehand, such as at check-in. To add to the fitful night, we were dozing off again, after lying awake for three hours, when the electricity came back on and once again our smoke detector blared to life.
Bleary-eyed at 5:00 a.m., we packed to catch our taxi to the railway station. At checkout, the front desk manager apologized profusely for housekeeping not leaving the letter. We suggested that they tell their guests upon check-in rather than rely on a notice being left in the room. Having the smoke detector wake us from a sound sleep, twice, was certainly disruptive.
A bit surprised that the manager did not comp us in any way for a lousy night’s sleep, we hopped into a cab, only to discover that the driver had no idea where the rail station was located. While he was contacting dispatch, David dug out his cell phone and gave the cabbie directions.
“This isn’t starting out well,” I mumbled as I stood on the railway platform shivering in the blustery early morning, waiting for the train—the Rocky Mountaineer Whistler Sea to Sky Climb—to take us from Vancover to the resort town of Whistler. Our seats were at the very front of the train and on the upper deck, giving us a panoramic view of the vivid blue sky overhead and nothing but snowcapped mountains all around us.
Three hours later, we arrived in Whistler and boarded a bus to the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Upon check-in, the front desk clerk informed us that management had upgraded our room to a luxury one-bedroom mountain-view suite and apologized for the previous night at the Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver. He wished us a pleasant stay in Whistler, albeit a short one.
We unpacked and walked into town for a light lunch at Brew House and then spent the rest of the day wandering the shops. On the way back to our suite, we stopped at Marketplace Shopping Centre for wine and made a second stop at La Cantina for tacos. We ate on the small balcony off our room, watching the sun sink over the mountains and Whistler Village. By the way, the tacos were delicious.