Bus Tour 4 – Hello There, Banff

I’ve been to Banff many times in the past. Having been born in Alberta, my family used to make day trips from a small town outside of Edmonton to Banff. This time, with the bus tour, we were here to do some touristy stuff – the Sulphur Mountain Gondola and the Upper Banff Hot Springs. Hooray for touristy clichés!

Sulphur Mountain Gondola

We had crossed the British Columbia-Alberta border before noon time. We had witnessed the rivers change from flowing westward to the Pacific Ocean to flowing eastward to Hudson’s Bay. We moseyed into Banff soon after. Before we headed for all the touristy attractions, we needed to grab food. If you guessed Chinese food (again), you’d be right.

Bamboo Garden on the 2nd floor of this Banff Ave building

Although I may have shuddered when we walked up the stairs to the Bamboo Garden on the second floor, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of food here. I would say that the food was on par with Vancouver Chinese restaurant food. So there can be good Chinese food in small town Canada. Hallelujah!

Food at Bamboo Garden

With bellies full with decent Chinese food, we headed out onto Banff Avenue for a quick walk around the shops for about a half hour after lunch. Then we were soon back onto the bus to take us up to the base of Sulphur Mountain.

The last time I went up Sulphur Mountain, I was a really small child. I have faded photos of the visit, but I have absolutely no memory of it. This time, we were ascending to a snowy winter landscape at the top of the mountain. This was exactly what I brought my snow gloves for.

Sulphur Mountain gondola’s upper terminal

Vancouver had such a mild winter that we only had a few centimetres of snow all season. The snow that did cover the ground in my neighbourhood didn’t even hide all the green grass beneath it. I think it was around for a day or two and then it all melted away. So this short trip up to Sulphur Mountain was my only real taste of winter in the past year.

from atop Sulphur Mountain

The real pain of snow when living in Canada is driving in snow and clearing snow. Apart from that one necessary act, everything else about snow is quite wonderful. The cold, crisp and, above all, clean air of winter is invigoratingly divine.

mountaintop lichen

The act of packing a snowball is equally divine and juvenile in a singular moment. The inner Calvin in me grinned gleefully. Too bad the snow didn’t pack very well here. Maybe the snow was too dry.

snowy Sulphur Mountain boardwalk

After a brief 30 minutes of winter, we returned to spring at the base of the mountain. We headed over from the gondola terminal to the hot springs next door. Don’t expect Japanese onsen hot springs, though. The Banff Upper Hot Springs is simply a small pool, and a crowded one at that.

Banff Upper Hot Springs (since 1886)

We lined up for the hot springs, but we had to wait for about 15 minutes. The pool was at capacity. We had to wait for some people to leave before they let more people in. It gave us a chance to meet one of our fellow bus travellers from Singapore, though. So remember. Even waiting in line can provide a great, unexpected experience.

We’d come all this way already, so we were not about to abandon our chance to dip ourselves in some hot thermal spring water. We finally got into the pool and lounged around for about 20 minutes or so. The pool thermometer said the water was 39°C, but it really didn’t feel that way. I suspect the cool early spring air was enough to make it feel cooler than the posted temperature.

Even though the gondola and hot springs are pretty high up there on the common touristy things to do, they can still be fun things to do. All right now, when’s dinner?

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