On my 35th birthday, my mother-in-law took the kids for the weekend and we got to get away. It was just a couple of nights but it felt longer. Both cities are so close they would also make suitable day trips if you live in Calgary, Alberta.
We got to Banff on Friday, in late afternoon, and checked in to our hotel. High Country Inn is very cute and I would definitely stay there again in a heartbeat. Loved the (almost) overly woodsy lobby and the friendly hotel staff. The two at the front desk were, I believe, Australian. In fact, most staff in Banff have accents: travelers who found themselves loving it there and stayed- which I adore. We checked in and went to our room. I took a short tour of it and checked out the view from our window. I was delighted to see a small balcony with a locking door to it. It overlooked the street which was mainly hotels, with a small view of the mountains. Bliss.
Husband and I are used to eating really early on with the kids, so we were already starting to get hungry. We grabbed our coats, browsed the shopping street and then started to walk towards the Juniper Bistro & Lounge. It is a little restaurant tucked in to a hotel nestled on top of a hill off of the highway. We walked through town and then past it. When we started to walk on the side of the highway I started to question if we knew what we were doing! I had to cross Texas Gate’s on the bridges. The gaps versus my size 7 feet seemed terrifying. I was sure I was gonna get my leg caught in there. I joked to the husband that he should carry me across while he teased me that I am a scaredy-cat. We made it across all of those and through all the muddy parts.
Thankfully, Josh is great with directions and we made it. A small hike up the hill and we were at Juniper Bistro. At the restaurant we were greeted warmly and seated by the window. The view is spectacular from that restaurant. Breathtaking mountains and trees as far as the eye could see. Since we got there in the early evening, the restaurant was still quiet and we got to watch the scene darken to early dusk.
We met our server, Natasha, who turned out to be one of my fave servers ever. Very friendly and kind, patient with our ordering and attentive, but not overbearing. I loved her as our server.
A large part of our decision for my birthday meal were the gluten-free choices offered. Gluten-free for me isn’t a choice. I feel that I have the worst flu ever if I eat gluten; as well as cramps, joint pain and a swollen stomach. It can last a couple of days, so it is most definitely not worth it to cheat. Juniper Bistro has a ton of gluten-free options and all of them are clearly marked on the menu. These choices are, clearly, not after-thoughts. The gluten-free menu items looked mouth-watering so I was extremely excited.
We started with the Beet Salad (GF and Vegan!) and it may be the most delicious salad I will ever eat for the rest of my life. There is no describing it really. Natasha came out carrying this work of art from the kitchen that looked too pretty to eat. When she set down the salad full of delicate twirlings of lettuce and decorative dribblings of sauce, I was in love. Then we tasted it. Josh simply said, “Oh wow.” For a man of few words, that was a glowing review.
I followed the Beet Salad with the sable fish which was amazing. We each had drinks (Josh fell in love with Delerium Tremens beer), and the truffles for dessert. I avoided the cookie and enjoyed the mouth watering (gluten-free) truffles. Just a really nice meal with a wonderful server in a great atmosphere.
The night didn’t end there. We walked back in to town and stopped for drinks at a liquor store, a bottle of wine and some beer, before heading up to the hotel. The people in Banff are funny. Eighty percent (or higher) of the people who are there are only in Banff for a night or a vacation week. Some are entitled snobs that think they don’t have to wait for traffic lights to cross. Some people are only there to ski or to pick up someone to sleep with. There are hipsters, snobs, artists, families, and outdoorsy types.I observed them all on the way back. We hit up the hotel hot tub and then changed to go out. We went to the closest Irish pub. It was packed! I asked if there are gluten free choices on the menu and our super amazing server checked for me, without batting an eye. Banff is so gluten friendly! They don’t sigh, get grumpy or give you stink eye if you ask them to check it out. Most menus have it clearly marked or they have a separate menu altogether. They are cheerful and welcoming when you ask. It is so refreshing since Calgary has been the opposite for me so far. I was overjoyed to find out that they have an award winning gluten free beer there called Mongozo, AND that their wings are coated with rice flour (hurray!), so we indulged in some mango bourbon flavoured wings. Delicious. Our server was amazing. Welcoming, funny, and efficient.
On the way to the hotel we saw, again, some interesting people. The funniest guy we saw was hopelessly drunk and his girlfriend was practically carrying him back to their hotel. She wasn’t tiny- I would say voluptuous is a great description- but he was a big tall guy. Very stocky. I don’t know how she kept his dead weight up! The construction made the sidewalk narrow and we couldn’t get past them, so we were forced to follow behind for a few blocks. It was very entertaining. We overheard a lot of funny conversation. At one point he almost fell off the sidewalk and she had to grab his pants to keep him upright. Another time his pants fell down when he tried to put his hand in his pocket, and he didn’t even notice! His girlfriend went to put her hand in his jeans pocket and felt flesh. She laughed and sorted it out. When we came up to our hotel they kept walking and I was grateful I wouldn’t hear them wandering the halls at night, loud and drunk.
Back up in to our room for drinks and a movie. It was such a great day.
The next day continued to be amazing. We ate the free hotel breakfast (gluten free options! EVEN BREAD), and set out to get a coffee that didn’t suck. I bought the largest latte they had on the menu before we hit the shops. We mostly window shopped until we hit the toy store we were waiting to stop at. We had quickly browsed it the night before and wanted to come back. Josh and I had so much fun looking at all of the neat toys, especially the educational toys and robotic toys. I left with one special thing- new cooking tools for Izzy by Curious Chef! They are hard to find in Canada and it gives Izzy and Hunter the security to really ‘go for it’ when they help prep food. The tools are the perfect size for her little hands and she feels safe using them. So we left happy.
After shopping it was time for lunch. We went to a Greek restaurant and I had a cucumber pepper mojito that blew me away, and a lamb burger with gluten-free bread that was incredible.
Then a hike! The trail was a bit snowy or wet in places but it was a gorgeous day out. We even saw swans bathing. A very magical day.
It was time to go to Radium. We cranked some hip-hop and got on the road.
Radium. Wow, small. There isn’t much going on there except hot springs, and some nice hiking paths and camping, but those are on either end of town- or even slightly out of town- and it wasn’t the season for camping. The actual town? It reminded me of mining towns when the mine has shut down. Just a very depressing feeling. Banff is so shiny and new and bustling and has a “Vancouver” tourist vibe. Radium is the opposite of all of those things. To add to this vibe, is the giant, and thoroughly creepy, crosses on the hill. Our little motel, The Piccadilly Motel, was super adorable, even though the building was a bit older. (Absolutely no sound proofing but extremely cute). The owner seemed nice and was very welcoming. The fresh breakfast the next morning was outstanding. It was really good. She home cooks all of the food, and there are gluten-free options. There are mini quiches, and sausages, fresh fruit salad…so many things I have forgotten most of them. Josh went back for thirds. If you HAVE to stay a night in Radium for some reason I highly recommend that motel. I decided that we should go to the hot springs since it is the only gig in town and I felt we should do SOMETHING with the night. The hot springs in Radium don’t feel natural at all. They are expensive and it is basically a giant bathtub that you float around in for awhile while teenagers shout at each other and kids scream or cry. I am not a huge fan. When I think of hot springs, I am spoiled and think of the ones I visited in Japan. In Japan, at least when I was there in 2001-2002, the hot springs are very hot water spurting out of natural rock. You feel lost in nature. Radium is so different. I did like floating for a bit though, even if I regretted not bringing something to read on my waterproof KOBO. The chemicals they use to keep it clean stripped my skin of all moisture. When we got to the hotel I rubbed my legs with my palm and a layer of skin sloughed off. I grossed out Josh! HAHA. I had to shower and moisturize the heck out of my skin (the motel lotion turned out to be very nice and had a subtle scent), but then everything was fine again.
Once we settled in, I was told Josh had bought me presents (even though I told him not to!) and I was able to open them! I got a Wes Anderson book about The Grand Budapest Hotel, a tea cup that I adore, and a book based on Zelda Fitzgerald! I set myself up with a glass of wine, (from the bottle we bought in Banff) and we watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. What a lovely movie! Such a charming and optimistic vein through the whole thing. Satisfied with our day, we fell asleep with smiles on our faces.
The next day was March 22, my actual birthday, and we decided to go to the coffee shop I had visited one other time on a road trip through Radium. We had time to kill before we met up with my MIL and the kids at the hot springs. When we left the motel I noticed my car has been damaged! It looks as if it has been keyed. ARGH. I was super upset but decided I wouldn’t let it ruin my whole day, since it could be worse! As my mom pointed out, they could have broken a window or slashed a tire!! So that made me feel better. Plus, the coffee shop is cute and the staff friendly. We ended up having lunch there because they had gluten free chili on their menu that day and we didn’t leave until almost 1pm. We had the couches in the corner in a patch of sunlight. I nearly finished my book and the chili had the perfect amount of spice. So not a bad morning after all. (Except my car -oh never mind, I said I let that go, didn’t I? hahaha).
We spent an hour with my MIL and the kids in the hot springs. I was SO happy to see the kids. Only two nights and I missed them like crazy. LIKE CRAZY. We had a nice dip in the hot springs and then headed home. It was a pretty uneventful car ride, thankfully. Once home, the kids were happy to see their toys and bedrooms, and I was happy to see the cats were okay. I think we were all glad to sleep in our own beds again, even though we all had a great time away.
(*Note: I cannot find my photos from the trip! :O So all of these were taken by my loving husband)