BootsnAll Travel Network

Archive for May, 2007

« Home

The World of Tomorrow

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

Enough about mountains and cute little squirrels. Back to work!

That means thinking about the future, which is closer than we think.

New rant about Google’s plans for world domination over at my LJ

Banff PS

Monday, May 21st, 2007

I promised you a link to some proper photos a few entries back.

So here—with kind permission—are a few pictures, just in case you thought there was no wildlife in Banff! (all photos are by proberts84, as he likes to be known 🙂 )

Note that these are not in the public domain.

A group of marmots set up home right in front of our hotel room windows. Although they looked close enough to touch, they were about the size of pinheads in my viewfinder, even with ‘maximum’ zoom (3x).

Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel
This is one of my favourites. To see why, look closely at the foreground. Click on the image for the large size.

Another golden-mantled ground squirrel at Sanson Peak. They never sit still for more than a second and it takes patience and skill to capture them like this. Go to proberts84 for more of the same!

Finally, deer were everywhere in the forests around Banff; usually directly by the roadside. And yet, I didn’t manage to get a single picture of one. proberts84 did, though!


These things are locally known as ‘elk’, which is rather confusing because ‘elk’ is the Scandinavian term for moose, and I was expecting them to be rather bigger! They are still an impressive sight once their antlers have grown (and during that time, you shouldn’t cross them, either!)

Another name for them is Wapiti deer. As such, they are also known in German (I knew I’d heard the term somewhere—it dates back all those years to my time as an assistant volunteer zookeeper.)

Mountain View BBQ

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

So, we’re back home (but we’re almost immediately off again, to drop by some mates in London. Normal service won’t resume until Monday).

I have some fond memories of this trip to Canada. After my previous visit to Montreal, which almost left me paralysed with ennui, I swore never to return—except of course for whale watching around Vancouver. Had I known that Vancouver is a short (well, 12hr) Greyhound ride down the road, I would have arranged for a longer stay!

But I digress.

Alberta stands in marked contrast to Quebec, or perhaps it’s just something to do with big cities. Despite the constant onslaught of tourists and visitors from Calgary, people in Banff are laid back and easy to talk to (as I’ve written in my first entry). It’s easy to have fun here. And of course, the scenery is stunning.

So, it is with some regret that I find myself back home, even though our week of uninterrupted sunshine was probably not typical for the area.

Only one entry remains:

[read on]

Cable Car to Heaven

Saturday, May 12th, 2007

Banff Gondola

Yesterday was our last glorious, sunny day. It was just as well that a few of John’s colleagues decided to take the afternoon off; the conference was relentless, with overlapping sessions from morning to night, and the only exercise our boys got was the forty minute hike to-and-from the venue. While the route was pretty, it didn’t offer any of the glorious views from higher up.

A quick way to get a mountain fix around here is to take the Banff Gondola which runs up Sulphur Mountain, dating back to 1959.

I was dubious at first, but it was worth it. The omnipresent trees dropped away to reveal an unprecedented view over the mountains, all the way to Lake Minnewanka in the distance.

Banff and Lake Minnewanka

A kilometre-long boardwalk hugs the mountainside, leading up to a historic weather station on Sanson Peak.

Boardwalk, Sulphur Mountain

As we slowly walked along, golden-mantled ground squirrels were chasing each other across patches of snow (I can’t take pictures of wildlife with my camera, unless it’s sitting still. If I get our resident master photographer’s Flickr link, I’ll post the link here. Those pictures will take your breath away!)

The shadows were lengthening as we finally descended, and on the next morning, it was as if it had all been a dream.

Cloudy Mountain

Banff Bus Run-around

Friday, May 11th, 2007

Canadian Schoolbus

Banff is about 4 km²in size, with one main road running through it; linking up with a line of smaller roads and thus forming a rough oval through the town. It should be straightforward to cover this territory with a simple bus service.

The local council is proud of Banff’s ‘small town charm’ and proclaims in its advertisements that everything is just a ten minute walk away ‘at most’. It takes longer, actually, when you have blistered feet.

The conference hotel—out of town—is about a forty minute hike from our accommodation. However, it’s just along the main road, which swings to the left after the bridge, turning into a wide arc towards the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, where it ends in a roundabout right in front of the convention centre.

This morning, I took a look at the map. There is a bus stop right in front of our hotel. We could just jump on board and…

Wrong route.

If you give a chimp a crayon and let it draw random lines on a map of Banff, it could do no worse a job than the town planners have done.

It has got to be on purpose.
[read on]

Skiing in May

Friday, May 11th, 2007

Sunshine Village in May

“There’s still snow in Sunshine!”

I thought I hadn’t heard right. Maybe I was a bit confused. We had, after all, just arrived, and it was the end of a twenty hour day spanning seven time zones.

I mean, of course there is snow in the mountains. What did he mean by ‘Sunshine’? True, the sun was shining that day, but in the Alps you can see snow even in mid-summer.

I must have gaped, because the landlord clarified. “I mean, people are still skiing. Snowboarding, too.”

Sunshine Village, it transpired over our next pint, is the Rockies’ highest wintersport resort, and it is a mere sixteen kilometres from Banff.

I had to see this for myself. The following morning I hopped onto a bus which deposited me at the base of the gondola that takes visitors five kilometres and a thousand metres up to the resort. But here at the base, there still wasn’t any snow. The sun was burning on my face and people were licking ice-lollies. While they were carrying snowboards.

Surely, it couldn’t be?

Boarding the bus, I had left behind the scantily-clad crowds in the city centre—almost everyone was wearing shorts and T-shirts—and joined a younger crowd: all in bobble hats and goggles, wooly sweaters and baggy trousers.

The evidence was there.

I walked across the car park and had a look around. I dithered for a long time in the hire shop. The gear was expensive. What if the snow wasn’t any good? At this time of year, it would hardly be champagne powder.

I hadn’t skied in twenty years.

In the end, I just took the gondola. Over the twenty-odd minute ride, it carried me across one of the most impressive winter playgrounds I have ever seen, with over 82km of combined runs, ranging from kindergarten ski-school to the double-black ‘Delirium Dive’.

From my perch, high up among the tree tops, it looked great, but the slopes weren’t busy.

When I got out at the last stop, I could see why. The snow was slushy, with a consistency like salt slurry. No good for a beginner, or rusty skier like me. But the mediocre conditions don’t keep people from having fun: this Saturday, there’s a rock concert in the resort.

Wish I was there.

Skiing in May

A ‘Cloudy’ Day

Friday, May 11th, 2007


Yesterday’s forecast was ‘cloudy’.

Seeing what that means in Britain, I decided to stay in town and do the laundry. But when I drew back the curtains that morning, glaring sunshine hit me from an azure sky. I had to squint to make out the majestic mountain backdrop (a sight that hits me just as much now as it did on our first morning, when I wasn’t sure whether we were in a motorway Travel Inn or wherever—until I drew back those curtains).

There were a few downy clouds behind the snow-covered peaks, but no grey in sight. I assumed that the forecast meant that the weather would deteriorate later in the day, but not so: ‘cloudy’ here seems to mean that the sun can disappear behind a white fluffy cloud for up to five minutes at a time, necessitating you to wait for that panoramic photo shoot. The weather held.

So, the laundry safely over with, I decided to shelf my plan to work on the novel and instead go for a walk.

One thing to be said in favour of Banff: it’s at the bottom of a valley covered in wetlands which are full of interesting wildlife and—above all—flat. Another pleasant surprise are the local hot springs. Near the marshes, they bubble back to the surface, and the warm water is lined with emerald green throughout the winter and is home to exotic fishes and birds year-round.
[read on]

Footnote in History

Friday, May 11th, 2007

Yesterday, I added a footnote to the timeline at the ‘History of the Web’ exhibition (you are allowed to do that).

The first targeted advertising was for Amazon Books way back in 1995/96 (during a Yahoo search, I think).

It made me feel pretty good. —And old.

A Bird in Hand…

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

Tim Berners-Lee was today’s keynote speaker, talking about the future of the internet.

I wasn’t there—I was in the Greyhound on the way to Lake Louise (if web access at IW3C was any faster than that on a remote SE Asian island with only dial-up access, i could show you how very beautiful it is there). But we talked about the future of the internet yesterday night.

You see, I’m lobbying my husband on the Google privacy issue, which I ranted about on my LJ. While the people at IW3C engage in mutual back-slapping and hero-worship, talking about the history of the web which is all of about twenty years old, the dream is turning into a nightmare even as they speak.

I went to a talk and reception about the ‘history of the web’ yesterday, but I switched off as the speakers jabbered on and thought instead about birds.

On the way into the meeting (from a very panoramic smoking break), we spotted a bird hopping across the carpet. It had flown in through the partially opened double door. Fortunately, there were no other people around, this being a little-used side entrance.

However, as John approached it, the bird hopped into the adjoining hall, towards the crowded reception room. John entered through another door to round it up and I opened the entrance doors fully. Between us, we were able to shoo it outside, just as a Web Consortium committee member walked in.

“You two should be on the IW3C committee,” he said.

I was glowing with pride. Not many entirely non-nerdy Zoologists can boost both an Erdös number and an invitation to join the World Wide Web Consortium. But then John whispered in my ear.

“He’s only saying that because, if we can’t hurt a bird, we won’t hurt a committee member.

Land of the Maple Leaf

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007

As yet without pictures. That would be because I forgot my card reader.

One thing to say about Canadians: they are easy to talk to. This is a great way to get to know about the country, with the least possible delay.

I was a little bleary-eyed after dinner yesterday, because my body clock insisted that it was about 6 am, and the owner of the Bumper’s Beef House had just bought me a drink (making it about the third or fourth ‘on the house’ I’ve ever had, but the last in a long line of pints on that particular night).

So I went out for a smoke.

Three people were already sitting on the bench, and I quickly found out that they were staff. We got talking what it is like to work in the busiest restaurant in Banff (well—busy. Hey, my memory is a little hazy).

Back upstairs, John was still talking to his colleagues. He hadn’t even noticed me chatting to the landlord, but so much the better. He has to focus on the conference—and he usually keeps an eye on my drinking when we’re out late.

I refilled my glass and went out for another smoke.

And just outside the restaurant stood the biggest lorry I’ve ever seen.

It was in fact just a normal-sized lorry, but that’s normal-sized for Canada. This one delivered ingredients for Pizza Hut, and it was so huge that it had a middle entrance.

‘Wanna have a look?”

“Sure.” I hastily stamped out my cigarette.

The two delivery guys were pleased to get a break from work, however brief, so they gave me the guided tour. Their lorry serves Pizza Huts all over Alberta. This seems to take about four days, despite the scarcity of towns with Pizza Huts. Alberta is quite a bit bigger than England (in fact, it’s nearly 32 times the size of Wales).

The front half of the lorry, where the doughballs are stacked, would comfortably sleep twelve.