Thursday, August 15, 2019

Banff Travel and Tourism Guide: How to Spend a Weekend in the Canadian Rockies

I’ve traveled all over the world and embarked on many exciting adventures but oddly enough, I haven’t explored much of my own country.

Many Canadian provinces have breathtaking landscapes, sparkling lakes and rugged terrain so instead of touring another big city or escaping to a tropical destination, I decided to get in touch with nature.


Banff has been at the top of my travel bucket list for years and last week I finally made it to the Rockies! I didn’t trek through grizzly territory or sleep in a flimsy tent while being eaten alive by bugs, but I did hike partway up a mountain and came face to face with powerful predators.


The flight from Toronto to Calgary International (the closest airport to Banff) is less than 4 hours so it is possible to plan a weekend getaway if you are prepared and informed. For those traveling from other countries, you won’t be disappointed by the wonders of this incredible landscape.

My first tip is to book early because accommodations in and around Banff sell out quickly. Since this was my first time in Alberta, I decided to do some sightseeing before heading into the wilderness.

Stephen Avenue

Aside from the Stampede in July, Calgary offers basic attractions including museums, parks, historical sites, shopping, trendy neighborhoods and a zoo. I went to the Calgary Tower which is actually shorter than many of the surrounding buildings, Core Shopping Centre and Stephen Avenue Walk – a pedestrian street lined with cafes and entertainment venues.


Intriguing artwork can be found throughout the city so I stopped at several installations.

Galleria Trees Sculpture on Stephen Ave

Wonderland Sculpture 6 Ave SE

The Brotherhood of Mankind Sculpture - represents “the dominance of man.” 

Visiting Banff National Park
The next day was long and tiring but I created an excellent itinerary to make the most of my short time in the park. Due to the high volume of tourists, you definitely need to plan ahead and be prepared in order to get anywhere near the lakes.


A few items that may come in handy on your road trip include:

*Toilet paper – restroom lines are very long and they usually run out of essentials.

*Map, GPS or compass (depending on the activities you have planned).

*Warm Clothing for early morning expeditions. Summer in the Rockies can be quite cold.

*Umbrella and rain gear (the weather changes quickly).

*Lots of water to prevent dehydration. My brand of choice is Flow Alkaline Water because the high pH level neutralizes acid in the body and promotes blood flow which helps when hiking at high elevations. It is also a great source of electrolytes with no added sugar, juice, calories or preservatives and the box is made of 100% recyclable material. For more info click HERE.


*Snacks/Food – there are no restaurants along the Icefields Parkway except an overpriced lodge serving cafeteria style food that isn’t very good. Many families chose to pack a cooler and make use of the picnic areas.

*Hiking gear (if necessary), if not, bring suitable footwear for walking and extra socks in case the ground is wet.

*Backpacks are hands-free and easy to carry because they help distribute weight.

*Camera (obviously).

*Bug Spray (trust me, you’ll need it).

*First Aid Travel Kit (you can never be too careful).

*Park Pass.

*Sunglasses.

*Sunscreen.

*Bear spray if you plan to venture into the deep woods....or just in case.

Driving From Calgary to Banff
Usually it takes about an hour and thirty minutes to reach the park and we didn’t need GPS.

Unfortunately, heavy fog and rain made driving conditions quite treacherous. The roads were pitch black (no street lights) and visibility was terrible. When you combine bad weather with elk and moose crossings, the journey can be dangerous. It is important to be extra vigilant while driving before sunrise or late at night on this highway.


Park Pass
As you enter the park gates you will be required to purchase a Park Pass for $9.80 per adult or $8.30 for seniors (65+). Youths 17 and under are free. If you are traveling as a family or group, the best value is the Day Pass ($19.60) which covers the entrance fee for up to seven people until 4 pm the following evening. Discovery Passes ($67.70) are valid for one year from the month purchased and includes access to historical sites.

*You must display the pass on your windshield at all times. Failure to do so may result in a fine.

Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake is a must when visiting the park but it is also the most difficult to access. I suggest making this the first stop on your tour if you want to secure a parking spot. Arrive between 5 - 6 am before all the tour buses show up. If you don’t make it in time, have a backup plan. Once the lot is full, park officials close the road and you can’t get anywhere near the lake unless you walk or bike (it is a long uphill expedition, even by car).


I woke up at 3 am, got ready, stopped for breakfast and arrived in Banff around 7 am (a little too late). By then the lots were full at both Louise and Moraine so I resorted to plan B.

Shuttle Service
If this happens, make your way to the Lake Louise Overflow Lot off the highway and take the early bird shuttle ($8.00 per person with free parking). There will most likely be a long line and tickets tend to sell out by 4 pm. Fortunately for us bad weather deterred many people from visiting so the wait wasn’t very long.

The shuttle service is poorly executed. Most days they are unable to handle the swarms of tourists and the entire process is tiresome.

It takes 30 minutes to reach Moraine via shuttle and although Louise is close by, there is no service between the two. Instead we had to go all the way back to the overflow lot (another 30 mins in the opposite direction) and transfer to another bus. Quite frankly, it was a complete waste of time but they didn’t leave us much choice.

Weather
Once we arrived at Moraine Lake heavy fog had settled over everything and the mountain peaks were completely shrouded. Visibility was so poor that I could only see what was directly in front of me – small patches of blue water. I was not a happy camper but the forest looked tranquil after the rain and everything was covered in droplets of dew.


The forecast in the Rockies is often unreliable and unpredictable. The climate changes rapidly so if you don’t have much time, persistency is key to outsmarting Mother Nature.


This was our view around 8 am...not good.

And this was our view at 5:30 pm the same day.

The sky finally cleared for a few hours so we could enjoy the incredible view. I would have stayed there all evening had it not been for the mosquitoes gnawing at my extremities.

Note: The parking lot at Moraine was open for a brief time around 5 pm but on our way out (around 6:30 pm) road access was blocked once again. In the evening most people head back to the village so try your luck just before sunset.

Best Location for Photography
If you don’t mind an uphill climb, the best place to enjoy Moraine Lake and capture amazing photos is atop the rock pile (to the left of the parking lot).

The path has makeshift steps that are quite steep but the view is totally worth it. Be on the lookout for cute little ground squirrels, they are all over the forest.


Lake Louise
Lake Louise is the most popular tourist destination in Banff and although it is spectacular, Moraine and Peyto are arguably more impressive.


Best Time to Visit
Summer is short in the Rockies so it is not uncommon for the lake to remain frozen until June. If you want to see Louise at her best – stunning blue water, clear skies and green foliage, visit during July or August. Unfortunately this is also busy season for tourism so expect obnoxious crowds and backed-up shuttle service.


The park is also beautiful in the fall and winter when snow sets heavily on the peaks. There are usually less tourists but snow storms and hail can cause road closures, dangerous driving conditions, avalanches and limited park access. It is best to visit at the beginning of the season.

The Fairmont Chateau Hotel sits on the shores of Lake Louise and their restaurant offers quite a view. During busy season, rooms cost upwards of $800.00 a night and reservations can be difficult to obtain.


The gardens are also impressive.

Lake Louise Canoes
For a different perspective of the lake, canoe rentals are available for $125.00 plus tax per hour.

Gondolas
Due to the weather, I was unable to ride the Gondola that morning but I don’t think I missed much. There are 4 gondolas you can take to various summits. I planned to ride the one at Lake Louise Ski Resort (8 minutes from the actual lake). It cost $37.95 per person and for two more dollars you can enjoy a basic breakfast buffet at the lodge from 8 am – 11 am.

Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway is a scenic stretch of road connecting Lake Louise to Jasper. This breathtaking highway is surrounded by more than 100 ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls, dramatic rock spires and emerald lakes.


We didn’t have time to stop in Jasper but I plan to visit next time I’m in Alberta.

I highly recommend this once in a lifetime road trip because the mountains and woodland along the parkway is home to bears, elk, deer, mountain goats, wolves and coyotes.

I spotted 4 bears on the same day! When this guy emerged from the underbrush I was standing outside. He made his way through the cars and crossed the road.


Another black bear walked alongside our car. He was so close that I could reach out and touch him! I was a bit nervous that he’d maul me through the open window but fascination got the better of me and I snapped a few photos before quickly moving on.


I also spotted a large grizzly and a few goats grazing near a lookout point.

Although animal sightings are exciting, you should always adhere to park rules and keep a safe distance. During our trip a man was dragged out of his tent and brutally attacked by a wolf. I also heard reports that another tourist was chased by a bear.

When venturing into the woods carry bear spray and follow the safety procedures outlined in the park’s guidebook. Always pay close attention to warning signs around trails and picnic areas. Entering the wilderness means encroaching on animal territory so be cautious and respectful.

Stops to Make Along the Icefields Parkway

Hector Lake

Bow Lake

Peyto Lake was probably the most impressive valley I saw during the trip and since people park anywhere they want, we rolled right up to the base of the path.

The trail is paved but the steep uphill climb to Bow Summit can be a little difficult. Remember to take water, rest if need be and allow your body to acclimatize to the altitude. 


The elevation is 2115 m/6965’ and snow covers the ground for nine months of the year. At the top you will come to a wooden viewing platform packed with tourists but the trek is totally worth it.

The sparkling blue lake is fed by glacial water and I hear the view at sunset is spectacular.

Waterfowl Lake

Athabasca Glacier
Our last stop on the Parkway was the Athabasca Glacier along the Colombia Icefield – the most visited glacier in North America.


There isn't much snow this time of year but in the winter, it is completely covered in ice and glacier tours are available.


After taking some photos we headed back to Lake Louise before sunset. I am aware that this 18 hour itinerary seems like a lot for one day but if you only have a weekend, you’ll see almost everything that’s worth seeing. We started at 3 am and by 9 pm we were back at the hotel having dinner.

Banff Village
The next day I slept-in, had breakfast at Denny’s and explored the charming town of Banff. There are many lodge style accommodations, restaurants, shops, parks and bars in this area. I prefer Banff village to Calgary because the buildings are adorable and the town is surrounded by mountains on all sides. Parking is free for 2-3 hours in most lots and it is a lively place to spend an afternoon.



We stopped at the Fudge Store for some dark chocolate and made our way along the river to a beautiful garden infested with mosquitoes (one bit me on the forehead...it wasn’t pretty).




Bow Valley Parkway
Before heading back to the hotel, we took a scenic route on Bow Valley Parkwaya picturesque road that snakes its way up the winding mountain. I’ve been to rainforests and jungles before but I’ve never seen such dense woodland. The lush pine trees are so tightly packed that you can barely see between them.

Despite the enticing trails and picnic benches, this parkway can be very dangerous. It is well known for wildlife sightings including huge grizzlies so keep your eyes peeled at all times and dispose of food properly.


There are a few lookout points on the parkway including Morant’s Curve – one of the most photographed spots in Banff National Park. I also passed the Johnston Canyon Trail (which was on my list) but I didn’t have time to see the falls.

Stay tuned for my next adventure and check out my travel page.

~Bon Voyage!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Lancome Monsieur Big Metallic & Matte Eye Shadow Palette: Review & Swatches

This September I will be celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary (I got married young) and as I reminisce about the last several years it reminds me of all the stages our relationship has gone through.

To celebrate love (past, present and future) Lancome has released the Monsieur Big heart shaped shadow palette ($65.00). This cute compact is divided into 3 sections with different intensities to help you create the perfect look for any occasion. Each shade is also labelled so you know which color to use as a base, highlighter, liner and outer corner contour.



The “liners” are no different from the eye shadows which make them impractical for their intended purpose. They blend into the other shades on my lid and end up looking messy around the lash line.

Use Big Crush if you want to keep things cute and casual. The tones are soft, pretty and subtle – great for a first date. 

When things heat up use the Big Date Shades to accentuate and brighten. The shimmery gold, bright pink and warm bronze are flattering on all skin tones and the highlighter is a sheer, frosty overlay.


For romantic occasions the Big Night look is my favorite! The satiny garnet is super sexy and the deep burgundy is great for crease definition. The browns look very similar but one hue is deep chocolate and the other has a hint of plum - perfect for crease sculpting and accentuating.

For some reason the bottom shadows have much better color payoff  than the other sections but with a good primer and a few layers they stay in place without creasing.


When it comes to cheek color less is more and the Blush Subtil Powders ($43.00) provide a natural flush. There are 27 sophisticated shades (nothing wild or unique) with an ultra fine, silky texture that blends seamlessly. Rose Liberte (on the left) has a smooth, matte finish while Make It Pop has a hint of radiant shimmer.


Lancome is available at department store counters nationwide.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

NYX Can’t Stop Won’t Stop Full-Coverage Lightweight Concealer Review

When people ask what makeup item I can’t live without I always say concealer/foundation. No matter how pretty your lipstick and lashes look, bad skin days are inevitable.

NYX recently sent me the entire range of Can’t Stop Won’t Stop Concealers and at just $12.00 each I’m quite impressed!


For consistent coverage choose the shade closest to your skin tone so it blends seamlessly with your foundation. A lighter color will provide a brightening effect while the deep browns are great for sculpting and contouring. You can also use them to define your brows, cupid’s bow and nose.

No matter how much eye cream I slather on, my dark circles are here to stay and this concealer camouflages like a dream! The wand allows for even distribution and effortless application with minimal creasing and no transfer. I can use several coats without wiping away underlying layers because the color stays put for up to 24 hours! This stuff lasts through heat, humidity, sweating and runny eyes so I’ll be wearing it all summer.

There are 12 shades in the fair to light range with neutral, pink and yellow undertones.


If testers are available, swatch a few and allow them to set. The colors tend to dry a bit darker than they initially appear. The matte finish may not be suitable for people with pronounced lines, wrinkles or dry skin. To counteract these issues, try applying primer or a plumping eye cream to smooth and prep the area.

Warm Honey 15.9 (featured below) is my preferred shade but I can also use Warm Caramel 15.9 and Mahogany 16 when I want something a bit deeper.



The medium range consists of approximately 7 shades.


The lightweight, highly pigmented formula is comparable to some luxury brands (yes it’s that good) and the full-coverage finish hides acne spots, redness, blemishes and discoloration with ease – pretty much everything you want in a good concealer.

There are 5 shades for deep skin tones.


If you find a match that is too dark and the color before it is too light, try a shade with a decimal value. These numbers indicate hues in the middle range – a combination of two pigments. If that doesn’t work and you still have trouble with undertones, mix and match to customize the finish.

I’ll definitely be sharing these with friend and family. NYX is available at drugstores nationwide, freestanding NYX stores and online at nyxcanca.ca.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Arbonne Botaniques Skincare Review

These day I’m balancing work, media events, travel, social commitments and home renovations while trying to stay active on social media and making time to work out. When life gets busy I like to stop, regroup, prioritize and do something calming to relax my mind and body.

Enjoying a pampering spa day at home is one of my favorite ways to de-stress. Taking time to treat myself is like recharging my battery. I feel better, look better and sleep better.

Recently I’ve been using Arbonne’s new botanical based skincare collection infused with uplifting extracts, superfood cocktails and refreshing tropical fruit that smell amazing! Like all of Arbonne’s products, this range is vegan, cruelty-free and formulated to enhance your personal care routine.


After removing my makeup I like to take a warm shower and lather up with the Papaya Body Wash ($25.00). The formula contains shea butter, olive extract, lavender, essential oils and gentle cleansers that rinse away impurities and leave skin feeling soft, hydrated and renewed.


While my skin is damp I slather on the Coconut Body Butter ($38.00). The lightweight, non-greasy finish is perfect for all seasons because it does not clog pores or make you sweat. Enriched with vitamin E and supple emollients, the rich cream absorbs quickly to lock-in moisture and alleviate itching, dryness and discomfort. It also works wonders on ashy feet, heels and hands.


My lips have been unusually chapped this summer (probably due to humidity and dehydration) so Arbonne’s Lip Therapy Set ($38.00) couldn’t have come at a better time.

The Vanilla Bean Lip Smoother softens and rejuvenates by exfoliating dry, flaky skin with a delectable blend of grape seed oil, shea butter, coconut pulp, dragon fruit extract and beet sugar. Simply rub your lips together to scrub away roughness and peeling.


When your pout is kissably smooth, use the Lip Salve to nourish, plump and moisturize. This luscious balm feels amazing the moment you put it on and the healing ingredients replenish and protect with a non-greasy, non-sticky finish. I keep this duo on my bedside table and use it every night. My lipstick always applies flawlessly the next day.

Another product I keep by my bed (and in my purse) is the Nectarine Hand Lotion ($19.00). The formula contains sunflower, shea butter and vitamin E to moisturize and repair damaged skin, brittle nails and ragged cuticles with no residue.


Another item you should consider is the RE9 Advanced Prepwork Micellar Water ($25.00) which removes daily impurities, dirt, makeup, sweat and oil with a blend of radish root, prickly pear, coconut water and apple extract. The refreshing formula smooths, hydrates and purifies pores to keep skin clean and blemish free.


Using the RE9 Advanced Prepwork Overnight Face Jelly ($48.00) is like getting a mini makeover as you sleep. This superfood cocktail contains a potent blend of vitamin C and E, antioxidants, lingonberry, stem cell extract, omegas and phytonutrients that boost radiance, plump, soften, hydrate and diminish signs of aging. It can also be layered with cream or serum to create a revitalizing night mask.

If you are interested in anti-aging results, the RE9 Lifting and Contouring V Gel ($63.00) tightens sagging skin while smoothing wrinkles, fine lines and crows feet. The weightless formula is enriched with root extracts, collagen, algae and a long list of effective ingredients that redensify, tone and reshape your profile. Pair it with the Counter Spot Essence Treatment ($88.00) to fade discoloration and invisible spots lurking beneath the surface.


Arbonne is available online at arbonne.com and through independent consultants. 
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