a peek inside the fishbowl

I want to interrupt this narrative with a wee show n’ tell of a very pretty necklace I picked out while in Jasper.

I have been wearing it nonstop since we came back to Ottawa. I just love it so much.

It’s from a very cute shop called Ransom. We were waiting for a table at Famoso Pizzaria (which was one of the best dinners we enjoyed during our holiday!) and Ransom is almost next door, so we dropped in. I could have spent a lot more time (and $$) here. Check out their Instagram feed right here if you’re curious to see what else they’ve got in store.

I have a lot to say about Jasper, AB. Basically: I love Jasper! It’s hip and fun and young and outdoorsy without the pretentiousness of Banff. But more on that, later. :)

11 Sep, 2018

The Fishbowl goes West: Moraine Lake

By andrea tomkins in travel talk

I told my family that there was NO TIME TO REST during this holiday. As if to prove my point, right after our amazing dinner we decided to pay a visit to Moraine Lake. We were not about to rest on our laurels (or watch Netflix in our hotel room)!

Moraine Lake is famous for its blue colour and fantastic views. In fact, it’s SO FAMOUS that the parking lot fills up at 5 a.m. and stays full, all day. I wish I was kidding. The only way to get there and see the lake is to (a) set your alarm and get there really early or (b) take a shuttle bus. And guess what? The shuttle stops running at 6 p.m. Sigh.

We drove up the road to try our luck. Unfortunately, the “lot full” sign was up so we drove past, dejectedly turned around at Chateau Lake Louise, and drove back down the way we came. Strangely there was no “lot full” sign when we approached from that direction! We saw a car pull in so we decided to follow it and see. (Note that at this point it’s an 11km drive to the parking lot at Moraine Lake.) Thankfully, there were a few parking spots available by the time we got there at 8:45 p.m. Victory was ours!

We parked and dashed over to the water. It was getting chilly, and it was dim and smokey due to the setting sun and the wild fires, but it was still a pretty sweet view. I’m glad we took the chance. There’s a lesson in here somewhere, about taking chances and holidays and happy memories.

The eldest at Moraine Lake

Me, taking photos of Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake

In my previous post about our travels out west I wrote about the gorgeous and awful horse ride we took to the Plain to Six Glaciers.

If you’ve ever been to Lake Louise you know it’s not a very big place. In some respects it’s a waystation – a place to stop on your way to somewhere else. Lake Louise is pretty much an intersection of backpackers, a small strip mall, and a bunch of hotels, but there is one standout here (other than the gorgeous nature, trails and views of course): It’s called the Station Restaurant and you MUST GO THERE.

Twenty years ago, on our honeymoon, we stayed in Lake Louise for two nights and ate dinner at this restaurant twice… THAT is how good it was. So of course, since we were visiting the area again with our kids we had to go there again. And I’m so glad we did.

First of all, it’s a great setting for a restaurant. It’s off the beaten path a bit – not far from the aforementioned intersection – and it’s an actual old railway station that’s been thoughtfully restored and preserved. The food was just as good as I remembered. It’s not a lengthy menu, but I believe there’s something for everyone. It’s the kind of place where the cooking is sort of like what you might make at home if you had the time and energy, but way better. (Here’s a peek at the current menu if you’d like to see what they’re serving up.)

Mark and the youngest daughter enjoyed a bison burger, and the eldest and I opted for mac & cheese with pulled pork. It was excellent. Piping hot, super cheesy, and just the right amount of pulled pork to make it meaty without making us feel like we were going overboard.

Reservations are strongly recommended. This place was full of people!

So this is me, 20 years ago at the Station Restaurant…

Me, at the Station Restaurant (August 16, 1998)

… and this is Mark.

Mark, at the Station Restaurant, (August 16, 1998)

This is us now!

Mark and I at the Station Restaurant in Lake Louise

Before you head back to your hotel, make sure you take a minute to peek at the old rail cars that are on the property. Maybe if you’re really lucky, a real train will pass by while you’re there! It passes right behind the restaurant. We waved at the engineer and he gave us a big honk. It was the icing on the cake on a really great family dinner.

08 Sep, 2018

Weekend reading: September 8 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

On the nightstand: The Drowning (Patrik Hedstrom and Erica Falck, Book 6)

In the previous post in this series, I wrote about our climb up Sulphur Mountain and the gondola ride down, which was very cool even though the views were obscured by wildfire smoke from B.C.

Every day of our holiday was jam-packed. At one point the kids asked me if/when we were ever going to relax. I may have cackled in response. Rest? RELAX! Haha! We rest when we sleep, kids! There was so much to see and do here that we couldn’t waste a moment.

From Banff we moved to new accommodations at Lake Louise. We stayed at Lake Louise Inn, which we kind of regret because there are quite possibly nicer accommodations in this area. Our room had a kitchenette and a back door to a “yard,” which was fine, but it was dated and old and the pillows were something awful. The girls thought the 1970s stove was hilarious and retro, but I thought it was ugly and annoying that one of the burners didn’t work.

Our first full day at Lake Louise was dedicated to a trail ride on horseback. Mark and I did this on our honeymoon 20 years ago and we enjoyed it so much that we knew we had to do it again with the kids.

We have five or six photos from that ride back in 1998 (remember, this was pre-digital!). Here are two of them:

Me: twenty years ago at Lake Louise.

Mark, twenty years ago at Lake Louise

And here we are today…

Me and Pepsi at the Plain of Six Glaciers

Mark and his horse
I am getting ahead of myself a bit.

This day’s adventure started very early and we set our alarms so we could be at the Brewster Adventures tables for 8:30 a.m. We worried about parking – the lot is extremely limited at Lake Louise and fills up quickly – but as it turned out there was plenty of parking at the “regular” lot when we arrived.

The light, because of the wild fires and resulting smoky haze, was a little eerie and at first we weren’t able to get a sense of whether the smoke was going to impact our ride and our views at all. This is what it looked like when we arrived that morning:

A pink morning at Lake Louise

We checked in, signed our lives away on the waivers, and waited for a couple latecomers to join our party, which gave us just enough time to quietly observe the horses. They appeared to be a trusty bunch.

Brewster stable corrals at Lake Louise

Making friends

Just after 9 a.m., after a brief orientation, we were saddled up and on our way. Our group was small: the guide, the four of us, and a younger couple who ended up at the back of our pack so it was almost as if they weren’t even there.

The destination was the tea house at the top of the Plain of Six Glaciers; a four-hour ride that includes a break at the top.

I cannot describe how stunning the views are along the way. The stables are very close to the Fairmont Lake Louise. The trail – which is “horse-only” in parts – starts off in the woods and skirts the lake for the first little while. This part is woody and cool with occasional glimpses of beautiful blue Lake Louise.

A glimpse of Lake Louise from the trail

Soon enough the water turns into an alien landscape of silty shallow water. This is the far end of the lake and that’s the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in the background:

View of Fairmont Lake Louise, across the lake

The trail continues with views of cliffs, rockfall, and goes through near desert-like conditions. Of course, the mountains look down upon you the entire way while the six glaciers slowly come into view.

Everything around us was so huge: the trees, the sky, the mountains, the piles of rocks… dragged by glaciers and possibly an avalanche. It is stunning. It is immense. The photos don’t do it justice. This place easily fills your eyeballs and your heart:

Horse ride at Lake Louise

Trail ride at the Plain of Six Glaciers

Horseback ride, Plain of Six Glaciers

Horseback ride, Plain of Six Glaciers

Trail ride, Lake Louise

We arrived at the tea house and found it busy with hikers.

The teahouse, Plain of Six Glaciers

I was surprised to learn that teahouse supplies are airlifted by helicopter and staff walk up for 5-day on/2-day off shifts. I was very much looking forward to taking in the views with a cup of tea and a scone but it was sadly not to be. We only had about 20 minutes at the top, which was not nearly long enough to order and eat (maybe visit the outhouse if needed), especially given the crowds. We really only had a brief look around before we had to go. This is my only complaint about our tour. I really wanted to linger but we had to rush back to where our horses and guide were waiting.

Here’s a peek at the view up there:

View near the teahouse, Plain of Six Glaciers

We took the same route down. Once again we were treated to stunning vistas. Seeing them from the other side this way was nice; not redundant as one may think. (You can see a bit of the hiking path on the left on the photo below.)

Trail ride back to Lake Louise

My horse was named Pepsi and he wasn’t as obedient as the others. Pepsi had a mind of his own and took every opportunity to veer off the path to snatch a mouthful of juicy grass or plants. We were told at the outset not to let them do this. Apparently, they get enough to eat and need to keep to their routines. The way I see it, Pepsi was either extra hungry, very single-minded, or just couldn’t resist mountain-grown greens. What’s more, Pepsi had a sixth sense for the very moment I reached for my camera because that was always the exact moment he chose to lunge for the grass. This was cute at first, but by the end of our ride I barely had enough strength to pull the reigns and get him back in line.

Have you ever ridden a horse for four hours? Expert riders undoubtedly build muscle mass over time but for beginners, it’s a different story. When we took this trip twenty years ago I remember how much my butt and legs hurt when we dismounted at the end of the ride. I had hoped that the passage of time between then and now meant that I’d developed enough backside padding and muscle for the ride to be a bit more comfortable. I was dead wrong. I was in agony at the end… and I am not using that word lightly. In fact, the last 20 minutes were pure torture and I was very close to getting off the horse and walking the rest of the way back to the stable. Everything south of my hips was screaming in pain. I tried everything imaginable and nothing helped: sitting upright, sitting heavily, loosening my muscles, tightening my muscles, leaning back. I’m sure the guy riding behind me wondered if I was sitting on a barbed wire.

At one point Pepsi had taken a bit too much time grazing when he realized he was falling too far behind so he set off at a trot to catch up with the others. Haha! Cute, right? Every bump sent shooting pains up my legs.

Finally, FINALLY, the end drew near and it was my turn to dismount. Pepsi made his way to a wooden platform so I could get off. Our guide was there to help and I told her that I was really worried that my legs were going to give out from under me. Thankfully, amazingly, I was able to swing my jelly leg over, plant it on the platform, and remain upright as I hobbled away. My backside has never hurt so much. In fact, the next morning I had bruises on parts of my body that never see the sunshine. It took DAYS to fully recover and sit down without grimacing.

Thankfully the rest of my family was in better shape than I was, although everyone had a varying degree of aches. I was sore, that’s for sure, in body and spirit. We walked (well, I staggered) to the viewing platform at Lake Louise for a brief rest before departing.

This shot doesn’t show the other 250 people who were behind me as I took it. :)

Lake Louise

After a brief rest, we gathered our strength and went back to our hotel. Mark made lunch while I cracked open a cider and convalesced on the back patio with a new friend.

I'm not sharing my cider!

It was the best day, and the worst day so far. The good news is that we finally had time to relax! Unfortunately, it was because it hurt too much to move.


Have a great summer at Saunders Farm!

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark. We have two daughters: Emma (19) and Sarah (17). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

If you'd like to contact me, please use this form. If you're so inclined, you can read more about me here. Thank you for visiting!


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