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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Beautiful Alberta - Banff National Park

Cradled in the lap of Canadian Rockies lies two of the most beautiful national parks in North America, Banff and Jasper. In this part of the country one would find numerous glaciers, including the largest ice field in the Rockies - Columbia icefields, turquoise & emerald glacial lakes, and lots of berries & bears! 

It was the beginning of autumn, and enough time had already passed to make us want to be back on the mountains. I was so excited when I came across these gems of the Canadian Rockies, with its interesting and rewarding trails. Due to lack of time, we had to limit this trip to just Banff and leave Jasper for later. But we managed to squeeze in enough activities for the 5 days we spent in Canmore, a small town located near the outskirts of Banff national park.

On our first day in Banff, we drove from Calgary all the way up to Athabasca glacier, one of the several glaciers constituting the Columbia Icefields. It is also the most visited glacier in North America due to its close proximity to the scenic Icefields Parkway. 

Driving through Icefields Parkway

Friday, June 22, 2012

Hiking the Swiss Alps

Switzerland had been in my bucket list as long as I can remember. Probably from the 90s Bollywood movies, or all time classics like Sound of Music portraying the Alps which I always associated with this beautiful country. It was in late 2011 that I came across the World’s best hikes post on Nat Geo Adventure site and Grindelwald caught my attention. The First - Bachalpsee (Bachsee) trail was the anchor to our roughly 9 day vacation in this little Playground of Europe.

I got Fodor’s Switzerland travel guide, which gives some general guidance on various regions/cantons and highlights for each. But we didn’t find it much helpful for the kind of vacation we were planning. After digging through a few Swiss tourism websites, another hiking trails book called “The Bernese Alps - a walker’s guide” by Kev Reynolds and a few youtube videos, we decided on an itinerary perfectly customized to our liking. To avoid the summer crowd, we picked late June for our travel, hoping the mountains would warm up enough to open the trails to hikers.

I also got the Talk Now app for learning Swiss German and picked up a few words like Tanke, s’Wasser, d’ Dame/ d’ Herre toalette, Wo isch d’Bank. Keep in mind you could potentially buy sparkling or even flavored water if you don’t know enough adjectives for s'Wasser. A note on water: do not bother to buy bottled water. Its very pricey. But why pay for it when people generally drink tap water and it tastes so good and mountain fresh!

Another word that came handy is d’Bank. We needed to find an ATM and no one could understand ATM or the "English bank" until Bobby pronounced it as "bahnk". People in general knew to speak English. But the trails, gas station, stores all tested our German skills. When grasping the meaning of a foreign phrase becomes inevitable, you would be amazed at the human brain, how quickly it learns, remembers & re-learns especially the mistakes! 

Most of our activities were centered around the canton of Bernese Oberland which includes Grindelwald, the home of the famous(and sometimes infamous) mountain trio - Eiger, Jungfrau & Mönch, Lauterbrunnen and Interlaken. 

We landed in Zürich after a 2 plus 7 hr flight, and spent the rest of the day walking through old town Zürich, visiting some Romanesque cathedrals and renting a boat on the lake. Later in the night, we drove to Grindelwald where we were to spend the next couple of days.

The steeple of St Peter's church, the largest church clock face in Europe