Canada part 2: Going out with a Banff

Alberta- Banff, Jasper and Yoho National Park

” Traveling- It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

Alberta is absolutely one of the most stunning places I have ever seen.

Gonna keep it real here and point out that Banff’s beauty far exceeded my expectations; I was not expecting it to be as pretty as it actually was in person. In my mind, I had thought it was one of those places that looked really photogenic but then boom you were hit with the anticlimactic sticker right in the center of your forehead and boy I was so wrong. I switched off between these three expressions the entire time I was there 😮😍🥶.

The places you find yourself ending up in unexpectedly are most often, the most memorable places, and Banff was just that. I had decided to go with a weeks prior notice since a buddy of mine was planning on visiting Calgary for work(shoutout to Steven!) and asked if I wanted to tag along. We were both so unprepared for this trip(we both travel light which is a good thing but when it’s freezing, that is not very smart) but that made it even more fun because it was super spontaneous and we did whatever we wanted without having to follow an itinerary. Sometimes when you have been traveling for extended periods of time, everything feels very routine; you get burnt out and you are just on autopilot with the sole goal of checking things off of a list without experiencing them and I think this applies to other areas of our lives too( like one’s work or relationships). Going with the flow helps you live in the present moment because you cannot predict what will happen next, everything will be a surprise and you are free to feel it out as it is happening in real time. Not a lot of humans nowadays allow themselves to feel things; people avoid this by seeking the safety of a set schedule and doing things just for the sake of doing them , never stopping to think of the why. Of course, I am not saying go into it completely unprepared–do your research– but do not be one of those people that need to have every single second planned for. You are a human being, not a robot. Please relax.

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

-Andre Gide

I flew into Calgary airport and picked up my rental car(this was in October so be sure to get snow tires if you are planning on driving to the parks during this time, because trust me, there will be snow). There was no snow in Calgary but as you drive to the national parks, it will look like Tahoe on steroids. In fact, during our drive to Banff and Lake Louise, it felt like the snow was falling in slow motion and everything looked so magical. It was my first time seeing such a sight and even Steven( the Disney Channel Show, jk)–who has seen lots of cool shit– was in awe at how beautiful the scenery was. It was like Christmas came early!

We had left around 9 am to drive to Lake Louise and arrived at around 11 am, it was overcast but still the most gorgeous lake I have ever since in my life. We took some pictures and just took in the scenery because it was breathtaking; during this time, the clouds began to clear up and when the sun came out, the famed stunning blue color of the lake started to show. We got to see it both during the snowfall and when the skies were clear and both experiences left us in a state of utter shock and increased our vehemence for nature. Being in nature allows you witness something so much bigger than yourself and this emphasizes the trivialities of certain day to day problems you may have. I think being at Lake Louise was meditative in a way because of the emotions that it made me feel while I was there, I felt at peace, content and grateful for being alive and getting to see something this beautiful in the company of a good friend was nice.

“Traveling tends to magnify all human emotions.”

Peter Hoeg

After spending a couple hours at Lake Louise(we didn’t want to leave!)…we decided to head to Lake Morraine but it ended up being closed to a cars for the season, you could still hike up there but we both did not have the right gear because we didn’t expect to come across any snow 😦 That was fine, we found another lake and spotted an elk!!! We went to the Banff Gondola(45 USD per person…kinda pricey but so worth) and the view was absolutely stunning. You get to see Banff from up top. It was also freezing and since my cold tolerance is nonexistent I wasn’t having it so I admired it from inside the observatory through one of the huge windows. Bow waterfall is close by and worth checking out too if you have extra time. On our way back to the hotel, we saw an elk casually walking around the town square, pretty awesome I definitely stopped the car in the middle of the road(do not try this at home kids).

Day 2: We had learned from experience that we had to wake up earlier in order to go to more places before it got dark and so we attempted to leave at 6 am. Did not end up leaving at 6 but it was earlier than the first day. Jasper was the plan and it was a 4 hour drive so we planned a bit more today in terms of checking which stops were a must see beforehand. As soon as we got to Jasper, we came across Lake Herbert and he was a looker…that boy was foine. So we made a U-turn but there was nowhere to park; Steven just ended up stopping the car in the middle of the road because there were no other cars around, thankfully, as we took pics of Herbert. The goal of this trip was to see the Columbia Icefields and go to the glacier walk(I think this was the coldest location we had been to thus far because of the proximity to the glacier). We stopped at Maligne Canyon and attempted to do the hike but Steven was wearing white converse(hey, style over everything am I right) and it was extremely muddy so we headed back and decided to visit another waterfall when we saw a sign that says you could drive to the end of the hike that we were just about to do. JACKPOT..we got to reap the rewards without doing the work and I was also not into the thought of potential bear encounters–Berkeley students can be scary sometimes loljk bad joke.

The next day, Steven had to work so I decided to do a hike(Johnston Canyon) and visit Yoho National Park just so I could say “Yoho big summer blowout sale!”(Frozen reference) on social media. I also stopped at Emerald Lake and Natural Bridges on the way to Yoho after the hike.

  • Johnston Canyon: This is possibly one of my most favorite hikes of all time because the scenery was unreal. There were two main waterfalls–the Lower and Upper falls. The Lower falls were fairly easy to get to and only about a 10 minute walk from the parking lot but it was really cool because you could go through a little cave and on the other side you’d come face to face with the most beautiful waterfall. The upper falls is also worth the effort/time because of the sights along the way. The waterfall itself was alright but the journey made it worth it. The hike is fairly easy and I did it in jeans but you would need snow boots since the path was covered in ice and extremely slippery. At times, it felt like you were ice skating uphill; there is a railing to hold onto during the iciest parts though so don’t fret.
  • Emerald Lake: It was literally the color of emeralds and when you got closer it wasn’t the mossy “emerald” water you expect to see when water looks green(like Golden Gate Park), it was crystal clear. You could see the gravel at the bottom. Super cool.
  • Natural Bridges: This was by far the bluest water I have seen since being in Alberta. It did not look real and I think if you are in the area it is a must see.
  • Yoho: Not gonna lie, Yoho was aight. It was like a scene out of The Polar Express but I think this area is more industrial than touristy and as I was waterfall hunting here I came across a dirt road that looked abandoned because my GPS was being dumb and led me to the middle of nowhere. Long story short do not go looking for random waterfalls in Yoho if you do not know what you are doing.

Canada: British Columbia+Quebec

Vancouver, BC

Fun fact: Justin Trudeau used to be a teacher in Vancouver so for anyone who is still unsure whether or not they should visit, this little piece of information should be enough to convince you to come thru.

Location: Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

Mandatory Quote:

” I grew up in Vancouver” – Ryan Reynolds

If you are a fan of nature, good vibes and chill people, Vancouver is the place for you. I mean, it was home to both Justin Trudeau AND Ryan Reynolds, does it get any better than that? I took a solo day trip from Seattle–which was about a three hour drive–and crossed the border by car for the first time(it was an interesting experience and I will talk about it later on in this post). The drive was beautiful and it was nice to have the option of stopping and checking out certain spots along the way but if driving and renting a car is not in the cards for you, then you can fly straight there and Uber/take public transportation to downtown and walk to the little towns. Vancouver is a very walkable city. It all depends on where you are visiting from but I do suggest you rent a car for at least a day. I know what a hassle it can be, especially is you are under 25 because there is an extra charge so be mindful of that in terms of budgeting, but I think it will be worth it if you want to visit the more nature-y destinations.

If you decide not to rent a car for the entire trip, then your options may be limited in regards to visiting the places that are further out from town but there are plenty of things to see and eat in downtown. One of the spots I ended up visiting first was the Capilano Suspension Bridge then I drove up north to Stanley Park(consider biking this too if you’re into that) after making a quick stop at Whole Foods to pick up some lunch and enjoyed it by the Sea Wall in Stanley Park.

A trip to Vancouver would not be complete without visiting Chinatown, Yaletown and Gastown so that was my next to-do. It is a short drive from Stanley Park to the city center and everything from then on is quite close–approximately a 10 minute drive–in proximity.

  • Capilano Suspension Bridge: This was my favorite part of the entire trip, mostly because it got my heart beating fast–due to my fear of heights LOL( and for those who know me, y’all know I am somewhat of an adrenaline junkie). If you are afraid of heights, don’t say that I didn’t warn you. I arrived around 11 am and the park was packed. I would suggest going a bit earlier to avoid the crowds if you have the chance.
  • Stanley Park: Wow. That was what I uttered to myself as i drove through Stanley Park. Before you enter the park, you’ll cross a majestic bridge(Lion’s Gate Bridge) and as you are driving through, you will see many hiking trails and forget that you are in an urban city completely; that is how huge the park is. I found a spot to park my car while on the way to check out the Sea Wall and walked out to find the most beautiful view of a bridge and water. I strolled along the path and eventually made my way to the Wall(no, not that wall Trump) by accident after a short walk.
  • Chinatown, Yaletown, Gastown: I did not get to spend as much time as I would have liked in this area since this was only a day trip and I got to the actual town around 6 pm and the drive back to Seattle was three hours. The first thing I noticed was a lot of Asian people 😄…it’s okay for me to say this, because in case you haven’t noticed, I’m asian. I saw a bunch of cool restaurants and breweries I would have loved to try out if it were not for the lack of time.

What I wish I had done differently or what I would change if I were to visit again:

  1. Border crossing- This was quite an experience for me because I had a strange encounter with the border patrol agent after but looking back at it, I think it was just protocol to make you slightly nervous enough to answer the questions honesly and what I thought were invasive questions were just aimed to get a feel of the purpose of my visit. My advice is to answer as thoroughly and concisely as possible while being transparent regarding the intent of your visit. Keep your cool, guys. And bring your passport. Getting back into America took over an hour and people started turning off their engines because the line was not moving…thank goodness I packed lots of snacks for the wait. I dunno if saying this will get the border patrol guy in trouble but the story is too funny to keep hidden from the world. I ended up matching with the dude on tinder after I got back to Seattle and we hit it off, too bad he lives in Canada LOL.
The line to get into Canada was not as long as the line to get back into the United States.

2. I would have visited for more than a day and went to Grouse mountain or driven to Whistler to snowboard. I definitely missed out on sitting down to eat at the amazing looking restaurants and other local experiences since I only had a couple hours to cross things off of my list. To be honest, everything felt rushed; I wish I could’ve slowed down to enjoy everything a bit more. I think you would want to ideally spend 3 days, if not more, if you are trying to do the snow activities too and you happen to be there during snow season.

Montreal, Quebec

Fun Fact: Montreal is the second largest French speaking city in the world, after Paris.

Fall in Montreal on top of a viewpoint in Mont Royal

Another Quote:

“I grew up in a town called Cornwall, Ontario, which is about an hour outside of Montreal.” – Ryan Gosling
–> another hot Ryan who grew up in Canada, what a place!

Im kidding, here’s a real quote:

“Live, Love. Laugh.” -All the basic bitches of the world, including yours truly

Okay, enough with the quotes. Let’s get to the good stuff. As you can probably guess, I am not one to ever pass up an opportunity to travel and to hang out with friends so when a close friend(shoutout to Shon!) happened to be sent to Montreal for work, I took advantage of the opportunity and of how close New York was to Quebec and flew out for a weekend getaway. I was lucky enough to be visiting a new place and I get to spend time Shon, doesn’t get any better than that.

While I was at LaGuardia Airport, the person behind the lounge counter suggested checking out a spa called Bota Bota; he absolutely raved about it and said he would go back just to visit the spa. Shon and I tried to get reservations but we ended up not going due to us prioritizing other stuff over it(bagels) and time conflicts(she had to work like a normal adult). It costs about 50 USD for entry and you get to be on a boat(super cool) and chill in a jacuzzi. The massage packages are extra but seemed to be worth it so let me know if you end up trying it out yourself please!

I arrived to Montreal on a Saturday evening and was planning on flying back to New York on Tuesday, so I spent around 4 days exploring the city, which I would say is a good amount of time. I would’ve been fine with 3 days and if you are short on time this might be an ideal number of days since Shon and I were able to check out everything we wanted to see within about 2 days with ample picture taking time.

My first impression of the city was that it was immensely culturally diverse and liberal thus creating a laid back and accepting vibe. Most of the locals could speak both French and English and the food there was to die for, not to mention you had endless options in terms of cuisines to choose from. I noticed there were a lot of Korean restaurants in Downtown where we were staying as well as Middle Eastern, Chinese, French and about any other cuisine you could possible name. Remember to try the bagels, they are chewier and sweeter than American bagels. If y’all have tried mochi dough and you like it, you’re going to love St. Viateurs’ bagels…remember to bring cash, don’t be like us! They do have an ATM machine but we couldn’t figure out how to use it. Luckily, I had $8 USD on me and asked if they accepted American money(lol I was desperate) and they do but they charge a conversion rate; despite everything, we did score 4 bagels and some cream cheese for just under 5 USD hehe.

Let’s do something different this time and start out with food:

Cool, now that you’re hungry for more, I will continue with the rest of the itinerary.

  • Old Montreal: Lots of french vibes. Cool pier with a wheel( have you noticed that most cities have their own version of a wheel? Seattle, London, even Paris now) and lots of cute shops/cafes/restaurants. We tried riding one of the Lime or Bird scooters but they were all taken so we opted to just walk, wasn’t as much fun although there a couple cobbled streets so walking may have been the better option. Biking along the water was also pretty common and we would’ve done that but there was a high demand for the bikes too at the time we were there LOL. You can envision Shon and I pouting as we struggled to find a cooler method of transportation.
  • Botanical Gardens: We wished we had come earlier and spent the at least half a day here, since we came so late the outdoor portion of the garden was closed but we got to see the night show(which was the such a cool experience). This is one of the largest botanical gardens in the world and the one of the most impressive ones I’ve ever been to, with Singapore giving it a run for the money. The best part was definitely the night show which we spent 4 hours waiting for because of poor planning on our part. I suggest going early to check out the garden then leaving to do the rest of your activities and coming back for the night show later on in the day instead of coming at 5 and waiting until 9 like we did. We were so HANGRY by the end of the night(not a lot of places to eat around there but Olympic Park and a Sky tower is within walking distance).
  • Notre Dame Basilica: The architecture was extremely beautiful and unlike any other cathedral I have ever seen. It seemed to be more modern and after learning that the building burned down and was rebuilt that makes a lot of sense. There is a fee to enter(8 Canadian dollars).
  • Parc Du Mont Royal: I was fortunate enough to see this in the fall but omg it is stunning. Must see. Enough said.

Thanks for reading!