After a spirited discussion about Pamela Wallin, the Tory’s overspending senator, Ms Soapbox’s mother sighed and said ““Sometimes politics makes me so mad I need a rest!”
Brilliant! A rest was exactly what Mr and Ms Soapbox needed so we packed up the car and set off on an over-night junket to Banff.
Soon we were inhaling sulphur fumes and peering through the gloom at a tiny opening in a cave ceiling. The last thing on our minds was the political morass that passes for “government” in Alberta.
In the space of two days we discovered that the “good life” does not require an expensive lifestyle.
The Banff Springs Hotel
Okay, the Banff Springs Hotel is pricey, but we had a gift certificate and you don’t need to be a guest to enjoy the hotel’s amenities.
I love old hotels. The Banff Spring Hotel was built by CP Rail in 1888. It was rebuilt in 1911 in the Scottish Baronial style and is a huge sprawling castle, regal and mysterious, with corridors leading off of corridors and staircases leading to locked doors. We got lost three times trying to find our way back to the lobby. How can an entire bank of elevators go missing???
Apparently it is also haunted; although an American paranormal film crew, disguised as guests, failed to discover Sam the Bellman, or anyone else for that matter, tucked behind the false door that they hacked down before getting caught by hotel staff.
On an early morning prowl Mr Soapbox and I discovered a secret door set into the oak panelled walls. Behind it were shelves packed with candy filled goblets and serving trays. You could easily hide a body in there.
There were only two things on our “must do” list: the Whyte Museum and the Cave and Basin. Soon we discovered two themes overlaying our mini-break. The first was the critical importance of CP Rail to opening up the West and creating Canada’s National Parks system; the second was the pervasiveness of Star Trek lore in our everyday lives. Disclosure: Mr Soapbox disavows any association with the Star Trek theme, he says it’s lunacy.
The Whyte Museum
This pretty little museum was inspired by landscape painter Peter Whyte and Boston socialite Catharine Robb. They met in 1925 and carried on a secret liaison until they wed in 1930. The story of the middle class Banff boy and the American debutant who gave up high society to live in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere is just as compelling as the museum’s exhibits.
The suggested cost of admission? A $5.00 donation.
The Maple Leaf Grill
We’d forgotten to make dinner reservations and were faced the prospect of Wendy’s when we decided to try the Maple Leaf Grill. Yes they could fit us in if we came at 5:30, just before the huge wedding party that was expected at 6:00.
Only in Banff is it possible to show up for dinner at 5:30 and not trip over a thicket of four-pronged canes and aluminum walkers. The early start was worth it, although it wasn’t until the end of the meal that we figured out that the hint of something slightly sweet in the beef tenderloin was maple syrup. One would have thought the word “maple” in the restaurant’s name would have been a clue, but, hey, we were thinking “leaf” not “syrup.”
Vulcan Mind Meld
Twice in the space of two hours Mr Soapbox declared “I was just going to say that” in response to a witty comment from Ms Soapbox. Thinking he was on a roll, Mr Soapbox spent the rest of the evening beaming “I need a Porche” thoughts at his wife, but to no avail. The crisp mountain air will go only so far when it comes to attempting the Vulcan mind meld with one’s spouse.
The Cave and Basin
The Cave and Basin is a magical place. It came to national attention in 1883 when two CPR workers, William McCardell and Frank McCabe, crawled through what appeared to be a hole in the ground, but was in reality a skylight entrance to a mysterious evil smelling cave.
Conflicting claims over who “owned” the hot springs were settled with the intervention of Prime Minister John A MacDonald. The intercession of the federal government sparked the creation of Canada’s national parks system.
The hot springs are home to the Banff Springs snail, an endangered species no bigger than an unpopped popcorn kernel. Its shell, for some strange reason, spirals to the left, instead of the right.
The Parks Department, like Starfleet Command, subscribes to the Prime Directive—non-interference with local cultures. In a recent unseasonable drought (believed to be the result of climate change) many feared that the tiny Banff snail would perish. Luckily it’s a tough little creature and crept ever so slowly into crevasses in the rock, re-emerging when water levels returned to normal and proving once again that size doesn’t matter if you’re resilient.
The cost of admission? $4.00
The Good Life
We had a delightful mini-break. Mr Soapbox is happy. On the way through Canmore he picked up a cast iron Danish Aebleskiver skillet that he’ll use to make cornbread, not aebleskivers (whatever they are). Ms Soapbox is happy, she’d learned that the cost of the good life was $17.80 plus gas, meals and accommodation.
The value of the good life? Priceless.
Have a wonderful Labour Day weekend!