Monday, September 28, 2009

So, how was Canada?

Not Canada, just the Canadian Rockies, or the four national parks to be exact. That's where I spent a 3-week vacation and concluded that Canadian Rockies are a larger and friendlier version of Switzerland.

CPR and Fairmont

Although scenery is superb and people very friendly, some weirdnesses are quickly encountered by the innocent tourist: cable cars are called gondolas, toilets are washrooms and some nature spots are named after businessmen (mostly after past CPR executives). Although the history of the CPR is tightly connected to the parks, you still wonder whether there is a shortage of Canadian pioneers, scientists, artists or heros who deserve to be immortalized more than P&L mavens.

The CPR sold its luxury hotels to the Fairmont company, that is holding them today. The Fairmont Banff Springs hotel is one of our first targets, a piece of local history.

As we enter the lobby to find the exhibition, a black porter in Scottish uniform approaches us and releases a "what are you doing here?". He explains where the public areas we can visit are located, asks us not to move any furniture (why would we?) and not to bother hotel guests (huh?). He sumarizes the places that "will keep you busy for a while" or was it "out of trouble"?

About a week later we return to Banff and decide
to take Victorian-style pictures of ourselves. The photographer makes us imagine we are one of the Fairmont guests in the early 1900s to get proper facial expressions out of us. He also tells us the recession made Fairmont offer lower prices of about C
AD 200 - a tad more we paid for our own accomodation. I could have been the one whose peace was so fiercely guarded by that porter.


The weather can be pretty tricky. It changes in a matter of minutes from sunny to snowy and back to sunny again. This is exactly what happened to us on the Chester Lake trail. Above treeline, it can get very windy. Near Takakkaw falls, the mist turns the air very cool and walking on 300m of ice of the Athabasca glacier definitely warrants wearing those thermal undies.

There, I learn from Marianne, a twenty something driver-guide of a Brewster Ice Explorer, a wealth of information about glaciers. Later on, I apply my freshly acquired knoledge to the landscape of the Edith Cavell Trail, the best trail in all the parks. My other favorites are Emerald Lake and the view from Whistlers Mountain (reacText Colorhed by the Jasper gondola).

Hidden Spots

On the Kananaskis dirt road, noon reaches us at the Mount Engadine Lodge, a true gem amidst fabulous scenery. They don't serve lunch, but the table is soon covered with cold goodies, all nicely layed out and very tasty. (I am still trying to reproduce their lemon-poppy seed cake). I am truly enchanted. Back home I found out I'm not the only one. According to TripAdvisor, the lodge is 'among Canada's top ten hidden gems', while the Canadian Geographic Magazine refers to it as 'one of Canada's hidden treasures'.

Another gem off the beaten track is the Glenogle Mountain Lodge in
Golden, BC. Norbert and Doris are the friendliest hosts on the planet. On the evening we dined there, we were the only guests. While sitting on the terrace and indulging into Doris's delicious German dishes, a couple of deer and a baby deer slowly pass their yard and disappear in the forest.


Wildlife in the Canadian Rockies is abundant. The most widespread species is the mosquito. (Still haven't figured out how the little beasts got under my clothes.) We also spotted deer, caribou, elk, coyote, bear, hoary marmot, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, Canadian geese, different species of squirrel and some more I haven't been introduced to. For us city dwellers, observing wildlife is really cool, but the 'natives' don't appreciate the large herbivores eating their flowers and the bears collecting fruit from under the trees in their yards. Don't get close to big mammals and they won't bother you.

Travelling with Friends

Travelling with friends can be fun but also challenging, especially if you want to remain friends after the trip. We quickly learn the 'rough spots' and adjust (after getting yelled at in the middle of pouring rain). The central issue is how much togetherness is right for the group. Should we walk together on the trail, should we all dine together? As Dan planned the program, I made the lodging reservations and Peter did most of the driving, we also absorb all the complaints. The praises too.

Things to do

Most days we are out on the trail, walking. While in Jasper, the guys go on a half-day fishing trip on Malign lake and the girls go shopping. After the first shop (pricey indian art) I lose interest and find myself a chic cafe. I sip a decaf capuccino and devour a brownie. I feel on the top of the world.

Back to Calgary

On the highway back to Calgary, we decide to stop next to a deserted house to strech out a bit. 3 kids on bikes and a dog approach, but stop at a distance. A few minutes later, a man comes in a white van and questions us, then tells us we are in an Indian reservation and threatens to call the police.

Next morning in our Calgary hotel, businesmen and people looking busy at breakfast make me feel unease. Then I remember I'm on vacation, which is probably what they'd want and I conclude they should feel bad, not me. As cities make me nervous, I decide to take a day trip to the Royal Tyrell Museum to see dinosaurs. The visit turns out to be disappointing - vacationing kids ruuning around skeletons, not really understanding what they are looking at. The only intersting exhibits were 46 creatures from the Burgess Shale, a 505-million-year-old underwater world once home to over 140 species of soft-bodied organisms, one of the most important fossil resources discovered on a 2300m Canadian mountain top. One small creature turns out to be the ancestor of all vertebrates, so ultimately ours too.


Regular restaurant food is boring: steaks, hamburgers, salmon, pasta. Cilantro seems to be the most fashionable ingredient in Canadian contemporary cuisine. I hate it. It's used in organic agriculture to prevent bugs from eating nearby crops, as even bugs hate it and don't come nearby.

The Last Supper

We ask the hotel receptionist in Calgary to recommend a place for dinner. She sends us to a fashionable bistro on the posh 17th avenue uptown, a few minutes walk from the hotel. At first, I feel awkward in my tourist outfit among other well-dressed diners, but I soon recover and delve into people watching and my dinner (halibut with couscous, asparagus and... cilantro).

At the table to my left 4 guys are eating steaks and discussing the ultimate guy subject - making money. Actually only 3 are discussing, one is just mostly sitting there silently. On the bar, 2 young women, one overdressing the other and trying very hard to look cool. At the table opposite ours, a yuppie couple is dining quietly, almost apathetically. Seems they are out of discussion topics even before they are married (diamond ring on her finger). They are being served by a dancer postured waitress. Our waiter has longish curly hair, pulled back with a band. A slant-eyed waitress moves among the tables, pouring water from a stylish white designer jug. On the terrace an older man with different-aged blondes, one chicly late. A young couple enters. She is radiant wearing a fabulous short dress, moves out of my site. I spot her on my way out, sitting at a semi-dark corner table. Definitely a place to see and be seen.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Naive Question

The Goldstone Report left me with a naive question. International law defines this, international law defines that, why doesn't the international law define that war is against the law? Instead of defining what weapons and conduct are allowed during war, wouldn't it be simpler to just not allow war at all?

Former military industry workers and soldiers will use former defense budgets to create new and exciting things for humanity. Disputes between countries will be solved by international court and police. Disobeying countries will be sanctioned up to cutting all ties with them.

Don't raise your eyebrows, told you it's naive.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I know what you think

Two new insights from the past weeks:
1. If you need a manicure, don't ask your tailor.
2. If your bank invites you to the movies, you're gonna like it.

I know what you think: this woman is logically challenged, completely non-coherent. So here are the (true, of course true!) stories to prove you wrong.

For the first time in about 25 years, I felt the urge to have my nails professionally done. As I don't know any manicurist or pedicurist, I searched the local Yellow Pages.

I know what you think: this woman probably looks like a neglected slob. Wrong again. My nails look rather nice, actually. Clean, with no nail polish.

So, in the Yellow Pages I saw a large concentration of manicurists in Weizmann square, where Michael, our long time alterations tailor has a modest shop. As I needed to visit him anyway, I decided to ask him to recommend someone form his neighborhood. He took me to a nearby shop, where I was seated and waited for my turn. After taking in the non-appetizing scenery and considering escape, I decided to try at least a manicure. Bad decision. Both the outcome and the process were subzero.

I know what you think: she expected a 5-start treatment for her lousy $10? Nope, but I didn't expect to see bits of dead skin all over the place either, not to mention the lack of attention to the customer.

Our investment banker called. Strangely, she wasn't pushing a rewarding (for the bank, of course for the bank) investment. The bank invites us to a movie in one of the VIP halls of Cinema City. This turned out to be a very pleasant evening that also coincided with Peter's birthday. There was a free buffet in a private lounge before the movie, where I had coffee and cake. The hall featured leather armchairs with electrical tilting and leg rests, plenty of room for our stuff and refreshments and an absolutely huge screen. And blankets, too. They played the chick flick The Proposal, which was cute, stupid and entertaining. I know we indirectly paid for this via the bank commission, but we would never do this without their intermediation.

I know what you think: I expected her to be more cynical.