After landing in Calgary we were welcomed with some lovely Canadian weather, -7degrees Celsius. This was a chilly start to our stay being significantly colder than what it gets at home. Over the course of our stay we enjoyed a maximum temperature of 0 degrees while the coldest temperatures dropped to -29. The average temperature was around -10 and it was a unique experience – a completely new level of cold.
|Sunrise – Canadian Style|
We were met at the airport by Michelle’s Uncle and Aunt, Ray and Willy, who we were staying with for the most party of our stay. As we drove to Okotoks, a small town about 30 mins from Calgary I was amazed to see such extensive snow cover. Despite everyone telling me that “there is not that much snow” I have never seen this much snow before in my life, and I have seen snow on the hills we have at home and in New Zealand. For as far as the eye can see the ground is covered with crisp white powder. It is unbelievable.
|Merry Christmas from Okotoks|
When we arrived at their place we enjoyed our first home cooked meal in a long time and it tasted great! We looked out the back window to one of the most remarkable views of the Rocky Mountains; this was what we got to wake up to every morning! We spent the night relaxing in front of the fire and catching up with family we hadn’t seen in some time.
|Early Morning Snow Plow|
On Tuesday we enjoyed a sleep in and when we got up we headed out to play in the snow! The novelty for many American, Canadian or European children who see snow every year was not lost on us despite our age. We made snow angels and built a Snowman and even constructed an Igloo. It also gave us a chance to test out our new ski gear that was toasty warm.
|The downside to getting snow!|
On Wednesday we went into the town of Okotoks and went to the library to use the wifi to catch up on news at home and update earlier entries of this blog. Afterwards we headed to the iconic Canadian donut store – Tim Hortons for our first donut experience. Whilst at Uni I undertook a case study on the donut industry and was amazed to learn how high the per capita consumption of donuts was. However having tasted what Tim Horton’s has to offer, it makes complete sense. Their donuts are quite delicious, and their range of pastries is just tempting you to try another if you opt to sit in the cafe.
On the way home we stopped by the internationally known retailer Costco, to grab a few things and just generally look around. I have never been to a Costco before but they have an incredible range. There is just about anything shoppers could want, from TVs to groceries and at ridiculously cheap prices it is no wonder that they are so successful. We were also quite surprised to see a few different items in the store – a DIY sauna box for two people and as movie theatre popcorn trolley.
After an eventful day we went around to Michelle’s Nan’s place and I met her Aunt Marilyn and Cousin Rebecca and her boyfriend Andrew. We spent a little while catching up with them before heading out to dinner with Ray, Willy and Nan. We enjoyed a lovely dinner and spending some quality time with Michelle’s family over some very well cooked steaks.
|Our Picasso inspired Snowman|
On the way home we drove past Spruce Meadows to enjoy the view of the Christmas lights that had been set up at the racecourse. The difference between the efforts put into Christmas decorations in Canada was noticeably different to that at home. To start most people decorate the outside of their house while only a few put in the yards at home. Another observation was the extent to which some people go. At Spruce Meadows every tree was decorated with different coloured lights and it looked quite beautiful. We also drove past a few other houses with quite elaborate displays.
On Thursday we were woken up early in order to see a beautiful sunrise. It was quite fortunate that we had gotten up so early because Ray offered to take us to the ski town of Banff. We quickly got ready packing our warmest jackets and snow gear and headed off. Along the way we saw quite a bit of wildlife, from deer to buffalos, all manner of birds it was pretty cool. After we had been driving for a while I noticed that it was starting to snow, the first time it had since we had landed in Canada. It was quite different to experience the snow falling whilst we drove, as this is something that never happens at home, ever.
After a couple of hours of driving we reached our first destination – Lake Louise. This picturesque area sits at the base of a glacier that is frozen year round. We walked around the lake and saw that it was completely frozen over, in fact there were several people who were walking on the snow covered ice and even skiing. As we enjoyed the magnificent view we took the chance to play in the snow and watched a few people ice skating on the cleared patches of ice playing hocking.
The next stop for us was the little ski town of Banff. After getting there we headed into a little pub to enjoyed a little lunch. After lunch we explored this little town that sits in between some of the big ski hills. Banff is a very cool little town with a great feel to it. There are lots of little shops and boutiques for the ski weary to explore, we wandered into the Christmas shop that is decked out with thousands of decorations for even the biggest Grinch. We also wandered into the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Company to try a bear claw for the first time, such a sweet pastry covered in chocolate. The health kick starts when we get home.
|Our Rocky Mountain View|
On Friday we caught up with Michelle’s family again, this time meeting her cousin Donna as well as her husband Beau and baby Liam. Michelle enjoyed catching up with and hearing the news of the family that she hadn’t seen in many years. That night we headed out for dinner and drinks with the family and enjoyed a nice dinner before heading out for drinks with some of the younger cousins. Time quickly got away from us and before we realised it was past 2am and that long since we had sat down for our first drink.
The next day we enjoyed a relaxing sleep in and a hearty breakfast before we headed out to the local shopping centre. This time we were more being social than actually shopping but it was good to spend some more quality time with the cousins before we left. As we drove on the bus to the ‘mall’ I couldn’t help but notice that the bus was fishtailing…the roads were literally covered in snow!
|Plowing the road to Banff|
It has been very easy to forget about Christmas because we have been moving around so much. The experience at the shopping centre didn’t help because despite it being the last weekend before Christmas the shopping centres were extremely quiet. After a wonderful couple of days with the family we said our goodbyes and wished everyone a Merry Christmas.
That night we enjoyed a lovely barbequed steak dinner with Willy and Ray – Canadian style. It was 20 below outside when Ray ventured out to cook the steaks. The weather here has been very different to anything that we have been used to. At 20 degrees below zero it is almost 30 degrees colder than the average temperature that it reaches in July in Melbourne, and “this isn’t as cold as it gets here”.
|Nothing like speeding 30km/h over the
limit on snow and ice
Tonight was the first night that we had to ensure all the cars were plugged in as well. Over here because the weather gets so cold the cars need to be plugged into a heater in order to keep them warm and ensure that they start the next morning. The weather also affects the alcohol here. A fridge here is not used to keep the beer cold, that is what outside is for, if you don’t put beer in the fridge it will freeze! A stark contrast to the 40 above days they have been enjoying at home.
On Sunday we got up realised that we had had an overnight snowfall. So the novelty of snow still not yet worn off we headed out to engage in another Canadian winter tradition – sweeping the snow. We swept away about ¾ of the snow before taking a break to let our faces defrost. Outside was about -22 degrees. When we were just about to go out and finish a professional snow plow in a ute turned up to finish our job and take the credit! (Where was he an hour earlier?!)
After the snow was cleared headed out to do some last minute Christmas shopping and grab a few things before Christmas. We ended up heading to about half a dozen different stores collecting everything from food, to presents. For lunch we got A&W Burger, a popular Canadian burger restaurant which hit the spot nicely. When we got back we cooked a chicken casserole and apple crumble desert to say thanks for putting up with us to Ray and Willy. It turned out quite nicely. We spent the rest of the day after dinner relaxing and enjoying the peace and quiet, and the warmth inside looking at the 30 below temperature outside.
On Christmas Eve we woke up early to go out and grab a few last minute supplies before Christmas Day. On the way I went with Ray to see the most popular attraction in Okotoks – The Big Rock. This was pretty cool; the rock had been transported by glaciers from the Jasper Mountain to this area that got its name from the boulder. Okotoks means Big Rock in Native American. We stopped by the local supermarket to grab a few last ingredients before heading back to bake a few shortbread cookies and relax a little before we headed out to a party hosted by friends of Ray and Willy’s.
|Dinner with the family – Nan, Willy, Ray,
James and Michlle
The party was in the afternoon of Christmas Eve and was such a good party. We met a variety of different people who worked with Ray, or played soccer with him. It was cool to enjoy Christmas by meeting new people who had interesting stories of travel and adventure and were interested to share in our experiences as well. We were spoiled with an incredible buffet of Christmas food that was cooked for the party and a few drinks that were quite literally handed to us as we ran out by the host. It was a great party!
|The lights at Spruce Meadows|
On Christmas morning we were awoken to the smell of turkey seeping into our room and it was great. We got up to lend a hand where we could and were teased all day long with the smell of a massive turkey cooking away in the oven. The day was pretty relaxed and when guests started arriving around midday we got to meet Willy’s son and daughter Troy and Cindy, and Troy’s adorable puppy – Abu. Michelle’s Aunt, Marilyn and Nan came over as well and we enjoyed a lovely lunch with the family. The Christmas tradition of being spoiled with great food was alive and kicking, and we even got to enjoy a Christmas pudding (for those who wanted to!).
|Willy and the Turkey!|
|Our White Christmas|
On Boxing Day we woke up and got ready for another big day with family and friends. I started with a Christmas pudding and turkey breakfast, while Michelle enjoyed some chilli. Breakfast was certainly not the healthiest, but it was certainly tasty! We then headed to the stores to brave the Christmas rush to get some last minute supplies before Ray and Willy invited a few friends around for drinks and put on another feast o celebrate the festive season.
We spent the last afternoon in Okotoks relaxing, listening to the sometimes interesting, sometimes weird stories that the guests had to share. Many of them had been friends of Willy from High School which I thought was really cool.
|Ray, WIlly, Michelle and James|
After enjoying a couple of days of feasting and a couple of weeks of home cooked food, we found ourselves thrust back into fend for yourself land at hostels in Vancouver. We had an awesome time relaxing with Ray and Willy at their place; they spoiled us and took care of us, showing us around and inviting us to parties. Plus we got to see a white Christmas, we got to enjoy some time in the snow and got a real taste of what a cold winter is like. Even though everyone kept saying “it isn’t that cold yet”. It was great catching up with (and for me meeting) Michelle’s family on this side of the world, and we can’t wait to escape to this peaceful little gem of a city again soon!
|The Rocky Mountains|