Give it a shot … ?

Photography

When I was little, my Dad used to spend many hours upstairs in the attic which he’d converted to a small office.  There were two items which used to draw my attention – one was a Hornby train track which he’d set up and the miniature trains would run around the track, stopping at the mini stations.  It was great fun and probably inspired more by Ivor the Engine rather than Thomas the Tank Engine ……

Anyhow, the second attraction was that he would convert the attic to a dark room, for processing the negatives from his camera.  I remember there being an abundance of different chemicals and a highly complex process which had to be undertaken in aspiring to produce the perfect print.  I used to help out and would be in charge of switching on and off the red ‘safelight’ – and watched in awe as the pictures slowly emerged onto the photographic paper.  I remember having to ‘hang’ the damp photos up on a small washing line so they could dry.  You’ve got to admit, technology has certainly speeded the entire process up these days, but there’s something more authentic and unique when the technique to produce them was so variable and long-winded.

I’ve always enjoyed taking pics but never really put more thought into it.  My back-catalogue of pics pre-Canada has largely been dominated by the kids in all manner of British places and undertaking an array of past-times.  Interesting for me to look back on and remember the events, but less so for others!

Since arriving in Canada, I’ve found a new sense of inspiration in the natural landscape.  I have no photographic technical knowledge whatsoever but can appreciate inspirational shots.  I also have a personality trait which lacks patience – so taking pics immediately and ‘in the moment’ is more my style along with devoting total reliance on the sheer brilliance of the automatic camera built into my iPhone.

A friend recently challenged me to post a photograph of nature – online, every day, for 7 days.  I wasn’t sure whether I was cut out for the task, but gave it and go, and thought I’d share these with you – along with details of where they were taken……… enjoy 🙂

Day 1: There’s an abundance of red berries as you walk through the River Valley in Edmonton which are striking against the predominantly white snowscape and bare-branched trees.  I love the colour contrast and this was taken in the grounds of the Muttart Conservatory – rather like a small ‘Eden’ project here in Edmonton, and definitely worth a visit.

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Day 2: There’s a walking trail called the ‘River Loop’ which takes you around Fort Edmonton park.  Probably just under 3 miles in length, it’s a popular walking route of mine – fairly flat and easy too, for kids to tramp along.  I’ve spotted the occasional coyote along it in the past plus you get to see parts of Fort Edmonton as you walk along. I thought I’d test out a black & white shot …

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Day 3: Also taken along the River Valley but looking towards the Fort Edmonton footbridge over the North Saskatchewan River.  I’m constantly fascinated that it can freeze completely over …

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Day 4: Autumn (or ‘Fall’ as it’s referred to over here), is my favourite season by far for the abundance of colours which are simply stunning.  This next shot I took back in September walking along the Whitemud Park North trail.  We visited ‘New England’ in the Fall several years ago and I think this is equally as spectacular in colour with the ranges of yellows, oranges and reds set against the crystal clear blue sky.  Life can’t get much better than this surely?

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Day 5: There are plenty of bridges cutting across the North Saskatchewan River, all of which are subtly different in style.  I’ve taken lots of pics of many of these, but this next one was a footbridge across a river estuary leading into the North Saskatchewan.  I love the angles and shadows – and whilst this was taken mid-day in Winter, it has something compelling about it.

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Day 6: One of our favourite places we’ve visited whilst being in Canada is Canmore, just south of Banff in the Canadian Rockies.  Along with being home to the Grizzly Paw Brewing Company (highly recommended for any beer-lovers out there), it also has stunning scenery.  This pic I took on a weekend trip when my parents visited last Summer, on a walk up to Spray Lakes just past the Canmore Nordic Centre.  It was particularly notable, as we were obliged to carry bear spray with us and the kids were constantly wondering whether they would out-run grandma should one appear.

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Day 7: My final submission. Taken last Spring, this is Lac Beauvert just outside the Jasper Park Lodge in Jasper.  I can’t begin to describe how peaceful and serene the place is, and the mirror-image reflections in the water, with the turquoise colours and typically blue skies, are staggeringly beautiful.

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Nature at it’s best.  It just goes to show, that as with most things in life, it’s worth taking a shot …. 🙂

Winter sports …

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We seem to spend forever planning and preparing for the imminent arrival of Christmas and all the festivities that go along with it, and yet no sooner has it arrived, then it’s over and we’re now already heading midway into January.  It’s frightening how fast time goes.  But in terms of Christmas, we’ve just had the fortune to celebrate our second Christmas over in Canada – and we made a concerted effort to try to make the most of the break by doing new things and trying different activities.

My last blog mentioned the various shows and attractions we went to see with the kids just prior to Christmas (click here for a reminder).  As soon as we’d recovered from the Christmas Day excesses, we hit the road, and travelled the 4hrs over to the Rocky Mountains and Banff.  Edmonton isn’t renowned for its hills, so you can never take away the delight of seeing the Rockies slowly appearing on the horizon after 2 hours travelling, and the size and scale of the mountains covered in snow.  Ironically, we left Edmonton in -20, and arrived in Banff at -5.  The heady temperatures didn’t last for long and the cold flipped on its head and plummeted us back to the ever so familiar ‘minus double digits’ for the remainder of our stay.  That’ll teach us for thinking it may be warmer further south!

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It’s always nice to have people visit, and extra special this year was my best friend from home who flew over from the UK along with all her family to spend New Year’s week together.  We’re both of a similar mould, and making the most of a week together with family members whose ages ranged from 6 to 76 required a detailed plan and meticulous planning which we’d been developing for the last 2 months.  One of the first activities all bar the seniors of our party were first to attempt, was skiing.  We opted for a family lesson, and ended up with a tutor from Cardiff in good old Wales.   I lived in Cardiff for a while years ago, and we happily compared notes and places as we traversed the mountains.  It’s the first time I’ve been skiing in the mountains since doing it in Europe many moons ago, and you forget the staggering views and scenery at the top of the mountains, just after you disembark from the chair lifts.  Trying to concentrate on the terrain is hard work when your eyes are constantly drawn to such wonderful views – and the skiing itself is crisp, dry, and beautiful powder snow to ski on.  We had a brilliant day.

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Another highlight and ‘must do’ in the Rockies is a trip to the hot springs.  There are several different locations and last year, we visited the one just outside Jasper.  Banff equally have hot springs, and the view across the mountains is amazing when you get there.  There’s nothing quite like the experience of sitting in a blistering hot pool of 40C, whilst your shoulders and head are exposed to the outside elements of -25!  It’s much more pleasant doing this in winter than it is in the summer I’ve found, and there’s also a comical element as your hair, eyebrows and eyelashes start to form ice crystals and freeze.  It’s hilarious!  The worse part, is the decision to come out of the pool and move indoors to get changed …… brrrrrrrr…………

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Next on the itinerary was ‘dogsledding’.  It’s been on our bucket list of things to do in Canada and it didn’t disappoint.  We opted for a firm just based outside Canmore – probably one of my most favourite places in the Rockies – who take you via minibus about 17km towards Spray Lake.  There, you’re greeted by tour guides and 185 huskies who are all excited about being hooked up to sleds and going for a 10km run.  The dogs howl and jump with excitement until the sleds are off and then within an instant, there’s complete silence as you move along the trail except for the patter of paws on the snow and the occasional encouraging command shouted by the guide.

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The sleds are surprisingly comfortable and the winter views of the lake and forest scenery, spectacular.  We even had the rare pleasure of spotting a moose with her youngster moving through the trees – brilliant!  Nature at it’s very best – and certainly puts life into context when you can be out and about just witnessing such majesty.  Amazing.

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Spending time together, doing stuff together, sharing experiences together is what makes such things memorable.  And it truly was.  It was a great week spent with friends and family – and all the more important to us as they’d flown from the UK to spend it with us.  We certainly had a few comic moments too – and we’ll be dining off and recounting these for years to come!  What a way to start 2016 ….

Happy New Year one and all 🙂

Bear spray at the ready …

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A trip to the Canadian Rockies is always a superb experience and a wonderfully scenic visit, but one of our favourite places to stop off at, is Canmore – just south of Banff.  It’s an old mining town, nestled in between the mountains so you get 360 vistas all around – but without the touristy lure and trappings of Banff or Lake Louise.  As a result, it’s much more authentic.  The main street with shops are individualistic and it is riddled in character and a great atmosphere.

There are some lovely walks along the banks of the Bow River, but for our visit this weekend, we took a walk up to Grassi Lakes.  Bears are still very active and the advice from the Information Centre is to ensure you have some ‘bear spray’, as the berries are starting to come out and are a major attraction for our furry friends.

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Following a 90 second demonstration on what to do should we fall upon a grizzly and how to operate the canister ‘in-haste’ – plus signing a declaration that we wouldn’t use it for any other purpose – we were good to go.  The resulting conversation from the 3 kids for the first 30 minutes into our walk, was a preoccupation into the detailed arrangements should we encounter a furry beast – not helped by suggestions of feeding the youngest as a sacrifice to it first, whilst the rest of us made off as fast as we could.  The youngest was understandably perturbed by this proposal and it was concluded that it isn’t the ability to outrun the grizzly we need to be concerned about – just to be able to outrun the slowest member of our party … let me introduce you to the grandparents who are currently visiting ….!!  The youngest was decidedly comforted upon this news that she wouldn’t be bringing up the rear.

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Anyhow, this certainly took care of topics of debate during the amble, and created a distraction for the kids whilst they traipsed up the paths to an elevation of 1500 metres.   There are 2 small lakes when you arrive – both a vibrant green and turquoise which makes the journey thoroughly worthwhile.  You also get the view of the Bow River down in the valley overlooking the town of Canmore too.  There’s a large waterfall to see and an opportunity to take lots of pics.  It’s not a hard walk and reaps rewards for the small amount of effort required – it’s also extremely popular so get there early to benefit the most.

It was with slight disappointment we arrived back at the cars without an encounter or even glimpse of a grizzly – although if the bears had any sense, they’d wait till it was quieter in the evening to eat the produce in relative peace.  Given my 3 kids, I wouldn’t have blamed them at all.

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For the humans, there are some culinary delights worth testing out whilst in Canmore.  The Rocky Mountain Bagel Company, on the Main Street makes 12 different varieties of bagel each night and the sandwiches they produce are mouth-wateringly tasty.  We tried the ‘Mountaineer’ – pastrami, cheese, salad, mustard and gherkins – which we had on a jalapeno-cheddar bagel.  Truly delicious.

Further down the street is the pub, restaurant and shop of the ‘Grizzly Paw Brewing Company’.  A local producer, they have a modern, purpose-built brewery just 2 miles down the road which offers tours and ‘tastings’ too of all their ales.  Those who don’t necessarily want alcohol (?), can sample their sodas which the kids loved.  Needless to say, beers (not bears) and sodas were procured and consumed that evening …

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There’s also one of the oldest buildings in Canmore to visit, built in 1893.  Not old by European or UK standards, but significantly old in this area, and the original home of the Royal Mounted Canadian Police who were stationed in Canmore earlier last Century.  Prior to this, were there any disturbances of any description, troops from Banff were called in and suffice to say, by the time they often arrived, the event had either culminated in disaster or has dissipated completely.  Those were the days.

So, a good weekend was had by all and should you ever find yourself in this neck of the woods, give Canmore a visit and let me know what you think.  I suspect you won’t be disappointed.  In the meantime, we’re into our final week of the school term and the prospect of hunting for dinosaurs looms ever closer (and this isn’t a sarcastic reference to my parents – honest!).  More to follow ….

🙂

Tourists, tourists, everywhere

Banff National Park I’ve mentioned in past blogs about the delights of travelling in Canada, the ability to enjoy the country and savour the surroundings without significant numbers of tourists and volumes of traffic.  There’s an imaginary line which starts at Lake Louise and follows the Trans-Canadian highway down to Banff – both beautiful places and the highway connecting the two has wonderful vistas, but it’s also the honeypot every tourist is seeking to taste.

The drive south of Lake Louise down to Banff is relatively short (by Canadian standards) – and not deprived of scenic vistas and mountain views.  In fact, I thought the Banff National Park particularly stunning but for those wishing to savour the experience and the views with an element of authenticity, an out of season visit would be more fruitful.  Upon arrival in Banff, and as in Lake Louise, you’re surrounded by tourist coaches, cars and people whisking tourists and their cameras to their next destination stop.  It has character, but this is masked somewhat by the volumes of people equally wanting to sample some of the atmosphere and views.

We stopped and walked along the main street.  They have a great playground for kids which is just outside the Banff Information Office and museum – a large granite stone which encourages children to climb and play on – the kids loved it.  I just felt it too touristy (sorry Banff), and was keen to continue our journey to Canmore which is only a further 20 minutes drive south.

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Canmore has the feel of a working Canadian town – almost the place where those working in Banff actually live and relax.  There’s an excellent brewery – the Grizzly Paw Company – which brews it’s own beers and sodas in a beautiful wooden brewery just outside the main town centre.  Definitely worth a visit – they offer ’tastings’ of both beers and sodas, but after my youngest ‘kid’ asked for her fourth ’sample’ of the grapefruit soda, we felt we were outstaying our welcome.  (As an aside, they do tours around the brewery on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday – had we managed to coordinate our schedule, we’d have loved to participate in this).  We had to be content with tasting some of the beer, buying a dozen bottles of both beers and sodas, and chalking this up as a ‘must visit again’ when we move over to Canada properly.

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The town of Canmore has real character and a buzz about it.  Each store is individual, distinctive and seems to epitomise Canadian living.  We stumbled across ’The Banff Bagel Company’ – a cafe which makes it’s own bagels and offers coffees in a variety of strengths and  flavours.  It’s homely and warm, and we ordered several bagel sandwiches which were ‘to die for’.  The pace is relaxed and unhurried, you really do feel as though you could stay in there all day.  As for the bagels themselves, if I ever want a bagel sandwich in the future, each and every one will be measured by the superb taste and texture of the one I devoured here.  We loved Canmore and felt it was a truer reflection of a town in the National Park, and one without significant numbers of tourists – although the irony that we are tourists too, isn’t lost on me!!!

Sad to leave, we progressed along the Trans-Canadian Highway to Calgary.  All in all, from Lake Louise to Calgary it takes approx 2 hours.  You exit the National Park and slowly the mountains get more distant, the land gradually flattens out as Calgary looms closer.

The city calls …