48 Hours in: Jasper

I celebrated my recent birthday with a quick jaunt to Jasper, Alberta. Thinking about going to the laid-back town? Read on for some tips on spending a long weekend, including some hikes, good food and an efficient big-horned car wash.

The Drive

Mountains near jasperYou’ve likely heard that the Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic in the world. Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical; yes there’d be mountains but it would probably just be like the drive from Calgary to Lake Louise, no? No. It was stunning, a put-down-the-chips-because-your-mouth-won’t-stay-closed kind of stunning. By the end of the drive I had a crick in my neck from swivelling back and forth, and a delirious grin plastered across my face. We lucked out that it was an unseasonably warm weekend and the roads were relatively ice-free; if you’re thinking about doing the drive in winter, check conditions before you depart. If you’re going in summer – head out early to beat the traffic.

Stretching Your Legs
Do you enjoy spending all waking hours on the move? Good news! Jasper is for you. Perhaps you’d rather stretch your legs while doing some low-impact sitting on a bench with a mug of coffee – good news! Jasper is also for you. There are a number of great trails and activities for all seasons. Due to the unseasonably warm winter conditions we had to pass on our plans for snowshoeing (for there was more grass than snow in many spots) but we found more than enough in the way of hiking trails and stunning views to satisfy our outdoor itch.

Our first stop was Maligne Lake, frequently identified as one of the most picturesque spots in the Canadian Rockies. There are a number of trails that start at or near the lake, so we started down the winding road. As we rounded a corner, we slowed to a stop as a friendly female bighorn sheep trotted towards us and was drawn to the side of the car like a magnet. “This is amazing!” I thought, until we noticed two more of these sneaky buggers had appeared out of nowhere and were now methodically licking the side of the door. Okay. Not a huge problem. Just a couple of small lady sheep getting their salt fix.

A car pulled up behind us and we turned to wave at them when suddenly a GIANT SET OF HORNS appeared in the back window. It was Jurassic Park, sheep-style. We froze and wondered what to do. We couldn’t move without fear of bumping the sheep off the side of the road. So we did what anyone would do when surrounded by wild animals – we got out of the car and took pictures.

Sheep surrounding car

Sheep licking car

Eventually we became concerned about the imminent salt dehydration they’d experience, so we gingerly pulled away and watched as tongues were slowly dragged along the side like an iceberg. They did an impressive job cleaning parts of the car.

Marks on car from sheep

We opted just to do a hike around the perimeter of the frozen lake as it was such a crisp, clear day. I am so happy I brought my camera for a variety of reasons this day (big-horned car wash included) because people don’t lie. This place is BEAUTIFUL. Our plans to explore Maligne Canyon were shelved because it was exceptionally icy, and had become a slip n’ slide of epic proportions. Steve didn’t feel like re-injuring his knee which was a wise call.

Refuelling Your Tank
While food is more expensive than, say, Calgary, there are delicious options available. We grabbed breakfast at the Bear’s Paw Bakery and Coco’s Cafe, and enjoyed my birthday dinner at Olive Bistro. Rest assured, for anyone who knows Steve – we also ate sushi.

Resting Your Head

We stayed at the Pyramid Lake Resort which had stunning views. Apart from the lack of in-room wifi and our tendency to leave the fireplace on just a tad too long, it was comfortable. There was a hot tub, but we never had a chance to check it out. In the winter there are horse-drawn sleigh rides around the lake. I opted just to make friends with the horses instead. One of them was a bit of a jerk.

Good to Know

  • Gas – There is a gas station in Saskatchewan River Crossing but it’s only open in the summer months between June and September. While the drive from Lake Louise to Jasper is only about 230 km, it’s definitely not the time to test out the gas mileage of your car.
  • Seasonal Operations – speaking of only open in the summer months, some of the bigger attractions in Jasper aren’t open in winter. If you’d like to check out the Columbia Icefield or Jasper Gondola, winter is not the time to go. However, if you’d like a hiking trail pretty much to yourself, layer up and head out.
  •  Price – it’s a hard-to-access town, so things are going to be priced accordingly (except gas, still far cheaper than Ontario – whomp whomp).

Have you been to Jasper? What was your favourite highlight? Leave a comment below!

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What’s Up, Seattle!

It’s September 1st and I’ve maxed out my vacation time for the year, ho hum. Thankfully I used up the last of it on a trip which involved lots of Steve, nature and a quick jaunt to a city I really should have visited by now – Seattle!

We had about 48-ish hours to explore, and picked a lovely B&B as our home base for our trip (check out Gaslight Inn – centrally located in Capitol Hill, with cozy rooms and a nice deck for reading. Also a dog, and ample coffee, croissants and fruit for breakfast – we basically hit the jackpot). Not a lot of time, but just enough to find some favourites: 

1. Safeco Field

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We went to not one, but two baseball games and had a blast. Craft beer (helllooo Fat Tire Amber Ale!), friendly employees (having only been to games at Rogers Centre, I was unaware that one could go to a game and be welcomed in such a manner) and great views of the city skyline – the perfect way to spend a warm summer night. Twice. 

2. The Elliott Bay Book Company

Self of books at Elliott Bay BookstoreOH MY GOODNESS. This shop was my dream bookstore. Enormous stationery selection, picks for book clubs, local hikes and travel guides, zines and an entire section on writing. At the back with the cookbooks there’s a cute little cafe (licensed, should you want to enjoy a beverage with your new purchases). Such a great place, we went back twice (surprising to no one who knows either of us). I…bought a few things. 

3. Coffee

Seattle = coffee. Stumptown and Caffe Vita kept us caffeinated and provided some of the best coffee I’ve ever had. We glanced at the original Starbucks location in Pike Place Market with the ginormous line, and opted instead to get our fix elsewhere. We weren’t disappointed.

4. Easy Street Records

Smaller than Amoeba in LA, but with a great selection, good prices and less pretentious staff (I still love you, Amoeba). Despite our GPS’s attempts to make us drive off a bridge and the rainy weather, this was a definite trap for the two of us. Among my purchases I picked up the soundtrack for Singles, because it seemed rather appropriate and proved a nice ambiance for our drive back to Vancouver.

They also have a small cafe, with craft beer. Because everything in Seattle is simple and easy and awesome and sigh. 

Worth a stop as well – Cupcake Royale across the street. Lunch of champions!

5.  Experience Music Project (EMP)

Milky from the Coffee and TV music videoThe Spectacle: The Music Video and Hendrix Hits London exhibits were well worth the price of admission. Steve may have wanted a refund on said admission after my attempts to play the drums in the Sound Lab, oops. It’s pricey, but a cool spot with a lot of content packed into a small space. 

Bonus Seattle nod: Poquitos. Possibly the best guac I’ve ever had (with watermelon, drool) and yam tacos. YAM TACOS. I would go back to Seattle for this food even if I hated everything about Seattle, which is not the case because I REALLY loved Seattle. I’d like to go back now, please. 

Have you been? Give me tips for next time! 

LA Coffee Crawl

I had the brilliant idea to embark on a coffee crawl while in LA recently (Venice Beach, to be precise). The sun was warm, I was a tad sleepy, and I thought it would be a fun way to explore the neighbourhood.

A few notes:

  1. I can’t drink a lot of coffee. Caffeine makes me jumpy, excitable, nervous, twitchy, etc. etc. And by a lot, I mean more than a shot of espresso. Maybe two cups of regular coffee over the course of a day. I KNOW.
  2. Bar crawls are social endeavours (unless, you know, you have a problem). Important to have company for any type of crawl. Yep.
  3. By a tad sleepy, I mean I was exhausted after accomplishing a weird triathlon-esque 10K run and 25K bike ride the day prior. Sorry, legs.

So, armed with a book and a notebook, I set out. Here’s how it went.

8:30 a.m.: LEGS OW. COFFEE YES. First latte of the day at Cafe Collage! Conveniently around the corner.

9:30 a.m.: Intelligentsia! You fancy. (ordered: cappuccino and a gluten-free banana muffin, about which I noted “Sustenance is needed for this task. I am committed to my craft.”)

Coffee, with love

9:40 a.m.: Seriously, people line up for coffee? Venice, you crazy.

Intellegentsia

9:45 a.m.: Trying to rewrite lyrics to “Macarena” with “banana muffin.” (I can’t make out these notes)

10:30 a.m.: Book finished, but my head hurts.

10:31 a.m.: Oooo, hipster soundtrack ahoy! They’re playing Arcade Fire AND Pavement.

10:32 a.m.: AGHHHHH. (I think my head started hurting again)

10:40 a.m.: Please. Feed your screaming baby next to me (the entire place was empty, yet the seat next to me was chosen for this task)

10:45 a.m.: Coffee three! Cow’s End! Let’s go to the beach! (just a coffee this time, because espresso was making my heart race)

Coffee three!

11:13 a.m.: Debating renting a skateboard because am now feeling invincible and positive and that nothing can go wrong in life. 

11:30 a.m.: I’ve come to my senses, thanks to overwhelming NOOOOOs from Twitter. Thanks guys.

11:45 a.m.: Almond milk latte from Groundwork. SO GOOD.

Noon: I think I should stop.

12:31 p.m.: Took a break from the coffee bender because guys, I’m not a machine here.

2:30 p.m.: Hang on, has Target always sold booze?

3 p.m.: Actual food needed. Heading to Manhattan Beach.

Waiting for Lunch of ChampionsBest. Sandwich. Ever.

3:30 p.m.: Can’t talk. Eating. Sloopy’s, I love you.

5 p.m.: Ended the madness at four – three espressos and one coffee. Drank nothing but water for the next seven hours.

Thoughts once I’d come down from all the caffeine:

  • Intellegentsia was nice, but too pricey for my regular tastes. A fun splurge, and excellent muffin.
  • Under $3 for an almond milk latte and a great selection of brews makes Cow’s End one of my favourite places for coffee, anywhere! I’ve rambled on about my love for them before.
  • Seriously the Target I visited in LA sold booze. And not just wine.
  • If Sloopy’s in Manhattan Beach ever closes I can’t go to LA any more, so PLEASE DON’T EVER CLOSE.
  • Any type of crawl activity needs more than one person, not just for the social company but so one can carry the other’s ass home and put them to bed so they don’t drive almost to Watts (South Central, to be precise) looking for a craft store and then miraculously find one and wander its aisles singing along to a Backstreet Boys song playing on the radio, softly. THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED.