I spent most of last week at a training in Calgary, Alberta. I haven't done extensive travel in Canada so this was a bit of a new experience for me. My last trip to the north was for a high school music trip over 20 years ago, and we barely tip-toed over the boarder into Victoria, BC.
As I visited various sites around Calgary and Banff, I came to appreciate the vast diversity of the area, both in geography and culture. Springtime in this part of the world does not mean green pastures and abundant wildflowers, as it does back home. Springtime here is quiet, brown and cold. Winters here are real and the bright sun shining in the window belies the 30-degree spring temperatures outside.
I don't think Canadians are all that different from Americans. They drive on the correct side of the road. They (mostly) speak our language. There is a Starbucks on every corner (I mean literally. That mermaid and her overpriced coffee are EVERYWHERE.) But there are some distinct ironies and humorous observations that I had during my travels.
Although the Dollar Store exists here, there is some confusion on what that actually means....
You might not know where the trains or buses around town are heading, but you certainly know which hockey team they are supporting.
Fancy Italian pastries, which my husband's family makes every Christmas (and I've NEVER seen for sale on a store shelf anywhere, ever.) are readily available for sale in Canada. At the Asian market. Go figure.
Oh Canada. It's a funny place where pennies don't exist, the dollar coin is called a "Loonie", soda is "pop", and liquor can be bought by children (but not at the grocery store). It's just similar enough to make travel comfortable and easy for Americans, but just different enough to remind us that it really is a different country with unique customs and local norms.
By far, the most remarkable part of my trip was the 24 hours I spent in Banff National Park, in the middle of the Canadian Rockies. I live in a mountain region, so I wasn't expecting to be so completely amazed by the magnitude and beauty of Banff. The peaks and ridges were like nothing I've seen in California...jagged, stately and covered with ridges and creases that caught the snow in just the right proportions to make the scenery breathtaking.
I took lots of pictures but none of them really does justice to the scenery. I found myself torn between aching to have my family with me to experience Banff, and reveling in the quiet isolation to soak it all in on my own.
Thanks for everything, Canada. The cultural quirkiness, the April snow storms, the natural beauty and the favorable exchange rate....loved it all! Can't wait to save up my Loonies and go back again someday.