August 14, 2007
With my parents already visiting Amit in Calgary, we figured it would be the perfect time for us to go visit as well, knowing fully well that if we didn’t do this trip now, then before we know it, winter would creep up on us, and no way were we going up there when it was 20 below zero! Besides, with Sitara nearly her 5-month birthday, it was time to see whether she had inherited the travel gene from me. I had heard all these scary stories, and for that matter seen troublesome infants on too many flights. Jason and I were both nervous about whether or not we’d need the ‘infant benadryl!’ Luckily, we couldn’t find any at the store as we head out for the airport, so we knew we should just have to make do and keep her happy!
Sitara is inherently a really happy baby, and we figured, the only time that she might be fussy, is on take off and landing, both for which, well meaning moms had told me – “nurse on the way up and on the way down.” And that’s what I intended to do. Her feeding schedule was just right to accommodate our first flight too! Yes, we were bold, we had a three hour transit halt in San Francisco, so instead of getting to Calgary in the three hours that a direct flight takes, it would take us all of twelve hours from the time we left home till the time we entered Amit’s extremely-neat-for-a-bachelor-pad apartment!
We got to Los Angeles International and our first different encounter with baby was at the check-in. Instead of breezing through ‘self-check in’ we had to see an agent; however you don’t get to know this until after you’ve already tried to use the kiosk. Luckily the lady who was helping us was sympathetic to us and gave us the bulkhead seating for free all the way through to Calgary which on United Airlines is considered ‘economy plus’ for which luxury you must pay $43 per passenger.
Getting the stroller broken down and to go through the X-Ray machine is a whole other endeavor that we’d never encountered before. There was no way that the stroller was going to go through that machine, even if we separated the car seat from the stroller, which we did. Somehow, we managed to get it through! I think it’s a sad commentary of our time, when you have to remove a baby’s shoes before carrying her through the metal detectors. According to the agent there, “if you’re not born with it on your feet, take them off, except for socks!” It took us a good ten whole minutes to gather all our belongings (well, baby’s belongings really) and move away from the X-Ray machine. This was a new experience too, accustomed as I was to just breezing through the metal detectors when we traveled alone. Another good reason that we got to the airport earlier than needed.
All strapped in and ready to go, we moved away from the gate, and in my enthusiasm to make sure she makes it through take-off, I got her ready and nursing, forgetting completely that it takes a lot more than the 5-7 minutes that she feeds to taxi before take-off. So yes, she finished feeding, just as we started gaining momentum and was no where close to nursing as the wheels left the ground! Luckily her pacifier was close at hand, and I figured if she pulled on that, it would suffice. I also had my very own pressure monitor sitting next to me. While I didn’t really feel the hazards of air pressure changes, Jason suffered from it immensely. As soon as he winced in pain, I looked at Sitara, only to find her happily sucking on her pacifier and oblivious to any air pressure problems. Phew! Although it was too soon to say, it seemed as if she had my ears not Jason’s! She wasn’t ready to nurse at touch down, so I didn’t even try. Just figured the pacifier would suffice! And it did!!
At Calgary International, just before we stepped out, we pulled on some jackets and put Sitara in some warm clothes too, anticipating colder temperatures as my parents and Amit had warned. It was a balmy 65 degrees when we stepped out!
Amit took us home via the scenic route, driving along a road parallel to the Bow River which meanders through most of Calgary. It turns out that it’s called the Bow River because the reeds that grow along its banks were used to make Bows by Native-Canadians.
For a little one who has only been as far as her great grandfather’s house 2 ½ hours away, she did pretty darn well! We were both so proud of her. While she was slightly fussy toward the end, but then best of us are fussy after 12 hours of travel.
August 15, 2007 – Indian Independence Day!
Jason’s sick today! Poor guy, I don’t think we’ve ever traveled anywhere outside the United States without him getting sick for the first couple of days. We spent most of the day lazing around the apartment, and allowing mom to get her fill of Sitara, since she had had a terrible case of separation anxiety. After Amit got home from work, Jason announced that he just wanted soup and tea for dinner, but that we shouldn’t stay home on his account. Considering our dilemma, that if all five of us adults stepped out with Sitara, there was no way we were fitting in Amit’s jeep, it actually helped that Jason didn’t want to go. After making him comfortable for the evening, we stepped out to Edworthy Park, which my parents and Amit both claimed was quite lovely. Now, it was nearly 7pm and the sun was really high in the sky! We had at least 2 ½ hours of daylight left and that was before it got dusky!
Calgary is laid out in a very simple system which breaks the city into four quarters — North East, North West, South East and South West. The one thing that fascinates me about Calgary is the large number of parks within short driving distances of everywhere. Edworthy Park was no different. It is located in the SW part of the city and covers nearly 70acres within the city! It is also home of the famous Douglas Fir trail (named after the gignormous trees!) and apparently the TransCanadian railway occasionally makes an appearance through this park, through which the Bow River meanders, making for great canoeing, kayaking or other similar water sports. There were lots of people taking walks, barbequing, and rollerblading and just generally enjoying the beautiful greenery! It was hard to believe that it was nearly 7.45pm! I missed Jason; I wished he were with us to enjoy the serenity of this area. I could picture in my mind what he’d be doing…he’d run after little bugs, trying to get good macro shots of them, or he’d find a nondescript flower, and photograph it in such a way that it would equal the beauty of a rose. Or he’d catch one of us off guard, and take such an amazingly natural picture, that you couldn’t help but admire his skill with the camera!
The occasional bicyclist or roller-bladers were the only people we saw along this concrete path that we were on. I guess everyone else was on the trails. We weren’t equipped with the right kind of stroller, nor the right kind of shoes to go off-roading! We were happy to walk along this path, enjoying each other’s company, laughing at silly jokes or goofing on papa as he videotaped us in ‘still mode.’
Back at the car by 8.30pm and the sun was just about thinking it might set and disappear to the other side of the world. We decided to drive through this area called ‘Kensington’ which Amit claimed and we all confirmed is a ‘Yuppy’ area filled with ‘cool’ restaurants and coffee shops and little boutique stores that are too expensive to actually shop in. We found this little hole-in-the-wall shwarma restaurant called ‘Shwarma King’ which had the best, yes, you guessed it…shwarma! For the uninitiated, shwarma is meat (lamb, beef, chicken whatever) that is rotisserie except instead of it being on a horizontal stick, it’s on a vertical stick. When you’re ready to order, they shave the meat, so that you have thinly sliced shavings of meat on a pita along with some lettuce, tomatoes, olives etc. and their special sauces. YUM!! It’s not unlike a greek gyro, infact I believe they’re related. The difference being the gyro is minced or ground meat whereas this is shaved. We rounded off our meal with some divine baklava which is phyllo dough with nuts and sweetened with honey or sugar.
We finally head back to the house where Jason seemed to be doing ok, but still not quite ready to brave the world. The timing really throws you off. Normally, I rely on the sun to determine the rest of the evening after work, once it gets dark, you’re normally home, settling in for the evening, but here, it stays light for so long, that you feel like its ok to be doing things, but then before you realize it, its nearly 11pm and you’ve just finished dinner! Particularly on a school night, a schedule like that could really throw me off gear!
August 16, 2007
We decided to take it easy today, to give Jason the chance to really recover before doing any all day excursions…so while he slept most of the day away, we just lazed around the house, took a walk to the little community shopping area below Amit’s apartment complex, wowed the local Calgary women with Sitara’s cuteness and made plans to go to the Eau Claire area for an evening walk to Prince’s Island Park which is a large urban park North of Eau Claire on an island in the Bow River. It’s a perfect place for lazy canoeing and the location of many festivals including Shakespeare in the Park which was presenting a 20th century versioon of Macbeth as we strolled by. Since we only had Amit’s Jeep and needed to occupy one seat for the car seat for Sitara, we couldn’t all travel at the same time. So we had to make two trips, since both Jason and I nixed Amit’s idea of papa driving and Amit sitting in the trunk space! Even though it probably wasn’t outlawed in Canada to do that, we didn’t want to risk it! So Amit drove Papa, Sitara, Jason and I there first, and we got out and started strolling toward the central area of the park toward the Jaipur Bridge, located over the Bow River, which is the main walkway that connects Princes Island Park to Calgary, dedicated in 1994, the bridge celebrates Calgary’s sister city status with Jaipur, India. As we crossed over the bridge, we passed people with picnic baskets on blankets on the grass, watching Shakespeare. A little further north and we came across this guy, in a get up which looked suspiciously like a French fry. Curiosity got the better of me, and I asked his ‘handler’ what a French fry was doing on Prince’s Island…it turned out that they were filming a documentary on healthful eating, and the premise was that this girl was being chased by a French fry and trying to run away from it (unhealthy eating).
Soon we were joined by Amit and mom and we strolled around the very pretty lake which was perfectly framed in the background by all the skyscrapers that made up ‘downtown Calgary.’ We made our way toward the River Café which was a restaurant right in the heart of the park, from where you could see these very interesting black squirrels. What was even more interesting than the black squirrel was to see my husband, the mature father of my child chasing after these squirrels with his camera trying to capture them on film…err digital medium. The River Café was more money than we wanted to spend per entrée, so we meandered our way out of the park into the Eau Claire marketplace to an Italian restaurant called ‘Prego.’ The meal was fine; nothing to write home about, but the Tiramisu was excellent!!
Now it was time to get home, and again we needed to split up the trip into two. This time, Amit dropped Jason, Sitara and I home and mom and pop decided to start walking toward the direction of a popular landmark building where they set a rendézvous point with Amit. On our way home, Jason and I asked Amit if he would be Sitara’s legal guardian in the event of something happening to the both of us. We had both given this a lot of thought and we recognized the fact that he would change his life to bring her into it if that’s what it took. We knew he understood us, and felt that he would be an excellent father to her. We knew she would be in good hands. Needless to say, he was overwhelmed with emotion and said he would be delighted.
August 17, 2007
Today we’re going to finally visit Banff National Park and Lake Louise that my parents and brother have been raving so much about. Amit wasn’t joining us as it was a working day for him and he had been up there already twice in the short time he’s lived here.
In the fall of 1883, three Canadian Pacific Railway construction workers stumbled across a cave containing hot springs on the eastern slopes of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. Thus Banff National Park was born. It is Canada’s first national park and the world’s third. It spans 2,564 square miles of valleys, mountains, glaciers, forests, meadows and rivers. Banff is 80 miles west of Calgary, so not much more than an hour and a half drive. We set off early thinking we’d find breakfast along the way, and soon realized that was a mistake…you can’t think very clearly on an empty stomach, and pretty soon we were pulling into Denny’s right across from Canada Olympic Park which was home of the 15th Olympic Winter Games in 1988. As with most Denny’s everywhere, it was subpar! The weird thing was that the eggs that Jason ordered had pale yellow yolk! Ewww!! Bright yellow yolk is bad enough; pale yellow is just plain gross.
We continued on toward Banff and entered the park shortly before 11am. We made our way toward Lake Louise which is set against the backdrop of the Victoria Glacier. This is probably by far one of the most photographed areas of the Canadian Rockies. The hoards of tourists made it so that anywhere you turned to take a picture, someone else had already beaten you to it. The view of Lake Louise with the glacier in the backdrop was beautiful no doubt, but I felt a bit jaded. I wasn’t ‘wowed’ by it, as so many people seem to be. It is certainly pretty, but it didn’t take my breath away as I expected it to. And perhaps there in lay the problem…so many people had mentioned Lake Louise that I think I had built it up in my mind higher than it deserved to be. I have after all been on Lake Geneva in Switzerland and many lakes thus far have paled in comparison. The Chateau while pretty in its own right seemed out of place to me. Perhaps it is what they were trying to accomplish…the look of a Swiss chateau on the bank of a lake with a glacier in the distance…very ‘faux European!’ Maybe it just didn’t fit in with everything else around it, the village of Lake Louise and Banff National Park in general. Whatever the case was, it was under inspiring to me…and it turns out to Jason too!
The Chateau Fairmont Lake Louise is this highly expensive luxury ‘chateau’ which was a good place to break for bathroom and possibly lunch, but at over $600/night during peak season, a pricey place to hang your hat for a few days. We walked all through the Chateau in search of a simple cafeteria-style restaurant that they promised us they had…either we were mentally challenged, or their directions were, because we had to ask four different hotel staff at different points of our quest to reconfirm the location of this elusive cafeteria. We eventually stumbled upon it, and bought sandwiches, chips and a drink…nothing quite too tasty but not too bad either. The ice-cream that I had after our walk along the lake was the highlight of my meal! Sitara thought so too as you can see from one of the pictures where she wants to reach out and grab a bite.
We started to hike along the trail that walks the length of the lake along with hoards of others. We had Sitara in the stroller, so we couldn’t go off the beaten path too much. So far it seemed like she was quite enjoying the stroll, taking in all the scenery and the people. Jason was off, on his quest for macro photography. I believe this time it was the elusive white moth that he was chasing for the perfect shot. There are a few that he captured that for me, define photographic perfection.
Soon it was time to head out toward another lake, there were many in the park and my parents were quite keen to show us at least a couple more if possible. We moved on toward Morraine Lake, which is a glacially fed lake about 9 miles outside the village of Lake Louise. It is situated in the Valley of the Ten Peaks which apparently was featured on the reverse side of the 1969 and 1979 issues of the Canadian twenty dollar bill (source: Wikipedia). Now this took our breaths away. The color of the water was a spectacular shade of Emerald blue green, which is apparently due to refraction of light off the rock flour which is deposited in the lake continually. Mom was tired and opted to sit in the car, Sitara and I hung out at the lake side and papa and Jason decided to scramble up what looked like a huge pile of rocks! It turns out its called the ‘Rockpile Trail’ and is about 80ft above lake level…giving you an amazing view of the entire lake.
After a while, I went to find mom, since Jason and papa gave no signs of coming off the rockpile. The three of us then sat at the little café/souvenir shop waiting for them. Jason finally came to find us, and insisted that I join him while mom and papa kept an eye on Sitara for us. We went back up the rockpile, but this time we used the easier trail, instead of the way Jason and papa had done it the first time, which is to scramble up rocks directly on the face of the hill…on the backend there was an easy meandering trail which didn’t take any effort at all! I’m glad I went…the view was spectacular, and while you can see the color of the water from lake level, this bird’s eye vantage point just added a whole other dimension to your perception. We took the requisite pictures and then got back down.
While mom and papa were thinking that we had spent way to long on just two lakes when there were so many more to see, both Jason and I were done. We had seen all we wanted to see in terms of lakes and didn’t need to do more. For us and for Jason primarily it is more about the photography, and so each sightseeing stop takes longer than it would take the average tourist. (It’s a good thing I have oodles of patience!)
Our last stop was going to be the town of Banff where my parents had just visited with my brother just a few weeks ago because he had business here and they just tagged along for fun! So they were eager to show it off to us. According to Wikipedia, the town of Banff is the town with the highest elevation in Canada situated above Bow Falls near the junction of the Bow and Spray Rivers. We drove around the town, but had to take many detours because of the construction in the central part of town…finally hungry for some dinner and anxious that we were pushing our little girl’s limits; we decided to find a restaurant and then head back toward Calgary.
Of all the places in town, it was the ‘Old Spaghetti Factory’ that Jason decided we should eat at…this was because on his June business trip to Indianapolis, he had eaten there on more than one occasion and the spaghetti had been above excellent!! He was so eager for us to experience his experience that we actually put our name on a 20 minute long waiting list. Also, now that we have Sitara in tow, ‘kid-friendly’ places are always a plus! Well, again when expectations are high, they tend to be shattered! And that’s exactly what happened…especially for Jason. He had set the bar high in his mind with his Indianapolis experience and the spaghetti sauce that he ate here left him disappointed. Me? Well my experience is that anything tomato based is made delicious with a healthy dose of Tabasco sauce! Another thing to add to our not so perfect dining experience here was that we had ordered lemonade off the menu (in a bottle), I was nursing, my mom doesn’t drink alcohol and Jason was still not feeling a 100% so we all were expecting non-alcoholic lemonade…well, just as our waiter brought it out, I felt the urge to ask him whether it was alcoholic or not, and imagine our chagrin when he said it was…naturally we sent them all back…and were pleasantly surprised at how accommodating he was, he just said no problem and took it all back!! So imagine our irritation at finding out that he had done us no favors, because they charged us for them on the bill! So another 10-15 minutes went by in waiting for them to fix the tab because no way were we paying for something we didn’t consume…nor did he mention to us that we would have to! We left there all quite irritated and disgruntled…Jason at the fact that he had lead us into a less than perfect spaghetti situation, us because of the bill that we had to argue down and just overall the experience in general was nothing great. Only today, while finishing up this story, I googled Old Spaghetti Factory, Banff and then Old Spaghetti Factory, Indianapolis…and imagine our surprise when the two belong to two totally different chains of restaurants!!! Jason felt redeemed! J And now, he’s back on his quest to introduce me to his perfect ‘spaghetti factory’ experience.
Sitara was tired, and she let us know it that we had pushed her limits just a little too far! She was after all only 5 months old, and she had so far held up remarkably well on what was now going on a 12 hour day, but she was done. No more miss nice girl!! The ensuing hour and a half drive home was an exercise in keeping the baby quiet…we tried it all, we pulled over and checked her diaper, turned on the rear light, thinking that she doesn’t like driving in the dark (which is the case right now, which has made it rather tough since daylight savings ended!). We sang twinkle twinkle little star on a continuous loop for what seemed like eternity, we cooed, we made funny faces, we did whatever we could for few moments of quiet…and finally we pulled into Amit’s driveway and were home! We had never been as happy to be home as we were at that moment!
August 18, 2007
We’re taking it easy today. We’re hoping that we haven’t ruined Sitara’s feelings about sitting in the car and when we step out in the middle of the day to visit a Global Fest that Amit had gotten tickets for, we very gingerly placed her in her car seat…and she smiled her usual gorgeous melt-you-in-your-shoes smile and we knew we were forgiven for yesterday. Amit’s friend Connie had come along, she has a jeep too! This would make it a lot easier than needing to make two trips. We head out to this Global fest which is a festival of different cultures showcasing foods, drinks and entertainment from Jamaica, the Philippines, India, Cuba, Spain etc. just to name a few. It being an unusually hot Calgary day, we were happy for the huge canopy under which rows and rows of chairs and tables were set up in front of a stage, so that you could buy your food and beverage and then come enjoy the entertainment from different parts of the world. There was a young 13 year old boy who performed ‘The Prayer’ with a much older lady. He was fantastic! They also had belly dancing, some Indian classical dancing, and hip hop. Friends of Amit’s joined us for a while and we had a nice time visiting with everyone, and basically watching Sitara becoming the center of everyone’s attention! She did really well…the loudspeakers and the really loud music didn’t phase her one bit!
At this event, we saw a couple with this really interesting looking carrier. They were in biking gear to it was safe to assume, this had been hitched to the bicycles to transport their two kids. Jason found out that it was called the Chariot and that the company is actually headquartered in Calgary and has an outlet in a bike store in the Kensington area which is the area he had missed going to with us that first night for Shwarma King. So we head out there…Connie very graciously agreed to tag along with us! We got to the store, and naturally as it always seems to be the case, picked out the most expensive one with the best features…the thing that was attractive about the Chariot is that it could double as a running jogger as well as an attachment for a bike, so it would suit both Jason’s and my purpose, instead of having two separate gizmos to take our baby along with us when we pursued our respective sports! The $700 price tag however was a very definite deterrent! While space would be the issue, we could certainly get both items (a baby jogger and a carrier attachment for Jason to take her cycling) for half that!
We returned home after that and decided that later that night, for dinner, Jason, Amit and I would go to dinner. We were eager to eat steak, after all Calgary is supposed to be known for its beef. Papa hates to eat beef, so we knew he wouldn’t enjoy it, and most of the good steakhouses actually didn’t allow kids. So the doting grandparents happily stayed home with the little one, and we took off to the Vintage Chophouse and Tavern for dinner. With a reservation that was only a couple of hours old, the best they could do for us on a Saturday night was the lounge area…which worked just fine for us. I knew I wouldn’t be nursing Sitara for quite a while, so I ordered a chilled Newcastle beer…yum! It was perfect! Jason had a Guinness on tap and Amit had Cuba Libré (rum ‘n’ coke). We ordered the Beef Carpaccio which was prepared perfectly with aged parmesan, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil and went straight for the Filet Mignons. All three of us ordered the exact same thing, except Amit and Jason ordered the 12 oz while I ordered the 8oz Filet. We each ordered it with a different side, so as to enjoy different ones…I got the sweet potato fries, Jason the lobster mashed potatoes and Amit the olive oil and buttermilk mashed potatoes. We each enjoyed our own potatoes so much, we didn’t want to share! J Conversation around dinner mainly revolved around our recent request of Amit to be Sitara’s guardian. As I contentedly listened to my brother and my husband talk it dawned on me that I was in the company of 2 of the 3 most beloved men in my life…the other being my father. It was a wonderful feeling knowing that these two important men in my life got along so well. I adore my husband and consider myself truly lucky to have found the perfect man for me, and my brother and I have been closer than siblings have a right to be. Perhaps it’s the job that my father does, that kept us close; when we sailed all those many years ago, we had no one but each other for company so we learned to make the most of it. Either way, my brother is to me the best friend a girl can dream of having. Even at the age of 12 he would threaten any boys that might be getting too close to me! He was and is always extremely protective of me. Somewhere along the years, the age gap has disappeared, and he went from being my little brother to being my best friend and oftentimes my big brother. Today he is the first person other than my husband that I would turn to for advice and opinions…and knowing me the way he does, he always knows how to make me feel better and say the right things. As a little girl, I always wanted a big brother…I guess my prayers were answered. I knew he would give his life for our little girl, and Jason knew this too.
August 19, 2007
We had to fly out at another ungodly hour! Ah, I remember why we had these strange hours…it’s because we had gotten these tickets using frequent flyer miles! That explains it. No one actually paying for a ticket would chose to fly at a time that requires you to be at the airport before the sun comes up! As tedious as security had been from the American side, going through x-ray machines on the Canadian side was just the opposite. When we told them that the stroller was tough to fold down to get through the machine…they said, never mind, just give it to us, and we’ll give it to you on this side….they were so easy about everything. Soon we were on our way, safe in the knowledge that Sitara was now a seasoned traveler and wouldn’t react to the air pressure changes on take off and landing.
This was a satisfying trip. Sitara made her first international trip, hopefully the first of many throughout her life. I hope I can instill in her the same love of travel that I have. We have a legal guardian for our daughter in the event something happens to both of us. We got to be a family of 6, something which hasn’t happened in a long while. Since my brother and I haven’t lived in the same state for ages, it’s always tough for total family get-togethers…either my parents are with him or they are with us…never with all of us together. This time we all got to be together for these few days and it was great! It’s probably a good thing in a way, because between her nani (gmom), nanu (gpap) and mamu (uncle) combined, that’s a heck of a lot of spoiling!