From The Book of Awkward Moments: A Travel Entry

Last week, Wil and I took our kids on a family vacation to Lake Louise, which is north of Calgary in Alberta. Wil had been there a couple of times as a teenager, but this would be the first time for the rest of us. I have traveled quite a bit, several times out of the country. But I learned a few things while being a visitor in Canada that I am STILL laughing at, because laughing at myself long after an event has happened is my secret power. Think of this as unsolicited travel tips so that one day when you visit this place, you can avoid these horrors.

When arriving in Canada and going through customs, it’s important to speak clearly to the customs agent about how you plan to get from the Calgary airport up to Lake Louise. When I said “rental car,” the agent got wide-eyed and practically yelled “WHAT DID YOU SAY?” so I repeated myself by saying “rental car” again because apparently I mumbled the first time and the agent, as well as my entire family, thought I said “rectal cock.”

Canadians speak French and English. Highway signs will post in both languages, but other places show only an English version or only a French version. Learn how to pronounce these French words, even if you don’t speak French. Calling the hotel to make dining reservations will be a lot less awkward when you know how to pronounce “Brasserie,” which is a French restaurant, instead of saying ‘Brassiere” which is an undergarment for women.

It’s great that you’re prepared and have actually brought Canadian money with you. For the most part, it’s called “dollars” just like in America. So when the bellman brings your bags to your room, there’s no need to announce “I have Canadollars!” before tipping him. Also, when you grab a snack and a cocktail in the restaurant lounge later that day and the waitress asks if you’d like to charge the bill to your room, you don’t need to respond with “I brought Canadough, so I’ll pay with that.” It’s just dollars.

When deciding to go skiing with the family at the nearby ski resort, it’s best to remember before getting on the chairlift that you haven’t gone skiing in 8 years, and may need a refresher on a run that isn’t very steep. That way, you don’t go up to the top of the mountain with your children to a run that feels WAY out of your comfort zone, and then spend the next 45 minutes going down the hill in an awkward, squatting snowplow hunched over stance of total embarrassment in an attempt to make it to the bottom alive and with all of your limbs intact. And when that ski instructor bringing a group of 6 down the hill stops and looks at you oddly, don’t smile and wave as you continue to “ski.”  You’re only making it worse. (Fortunately, I only did one run like that, and it all came back to me. The rest of the day, and the other two days of skiing were much smoother than that first run.)

So now that I’ve given you some travel tips, I highly recommend a visit to Lake Louise. It’s an incredibly beautiful place in winter, and from pictures I saw in the hotel, it’s a different kind of beautiful in summer. The lake is frozen solid in winter, so we went ice skating on it, and walked out and stood in the center of it. The view from our hotel room never got old, and I miss it already.

Sunset view of Lake Louise from our hotel room.
Sunset view of Lake Louise from our hotel room.


29 thoughts on “From The Book of Awkward Moments: A Travel Entry

    1. Sadly – it is not true. What IS true however, is that if one shines a red or green laser through the said scratch and sniff maple flavoured maple leaf’ you will see a diffraction pattern on the floor showing the denomination of the note. 🙂

  1. your vacation looks amazing, but i’m curious: how do you stay warm? i’ve wanted to take the kids to see snow, but our sorry florida wardrobe just would not allow it. it seems silly to buy coats just to wear once. can one rent warm clothes?

    1. We have had snow gear for years. We were all really comfortable because we wore layers under everything (it was on average 7 to 20 degrees fahrenheit the whole time were there). I’ve never heard of renting warm clothes, but if you weren’t going to ski, you could probably get away with a good jacket, gloves, and lots of long sleeve layers underneath!

    2. Never heard of renting clothes but the way we stay warm in Scandinavia is by layering, especially when skiing. We wear several thinner layers of clothes on top of each other and then finish off with a thicker sweater and/or a thin coat that keeps the wind out. You may end up looking a bit silly but it does work! One thing I really would recommend though is proper shoes, or at least warm socks that fit in your everyday shoes wihout it getting uncomfortable.

      And I don’t know how it is in The States, but if you visit the Alpes around easter it’s actually quite warm even thiugh there’s snow. You often see people skiing in t-shirts.

      I may not know what a Florida wardrobe usually consists of, but I still hope this can help.

    3. As the owner of a thrift shop, in Canada, I often sell winter wear to travellers caught unaware. Before heading north, do a web search for the area where you are headed. If it’s Quebec, you’re going to want to search “friperie”. The snow is worth it.

  2. I live about 4 hours away from there and hadn’t been until I was about 25. My family went when I was in my mommas belly, and we usually went to the mountains farther north in Jasper when I was a kid. The view is worth the drive even if you stay for only an hour. But the best time to go is the beginning of october, and I go most years for a work conference.It’s between summer tourist time and ski season. Often the weather is great but you don’t get run over by the overwhelming crowds of people. I have been there when there was only 4 or 5 other people in sight and it is such a great way to experience the beauty of that place.

    I agree, the color of many of the lakes in the area is amazing.

    1. We like to travel during “off season” times as well. Going on January 4th was perfect timing for all of the holiday travelers to get home so their kids could go back to school. There was hardly anyone there!

  3. Fun facts about Canadian money: the 1 dollar coin is referred to as a “Loonie” because of the usual picture of a Loon on it. The 2 dollar coin is referred to as a “Twonie” because it’s fun to say and it stuck. The newer bills are a sort of plastic. Unfortunately the $100 bill smelling of Maple Syrup is only a myth.
    So glad you enjoyed Lake Louise!!

  4. You referring to our currency as “Canadough” makes me feel better about calling the US dollar “Ameribucks.”

    And once upon a time, my boss mispronounced a French word while visiting Montreal, only to mistakingly ask for a hooker instead of fries drenched in gravy & cheese curds (a.k.a. poutine).

    1. YES! PouTINE versus PouTAN (or the best way I can spell that in English to get the point across, but accent is EVERYTHING with that word)! Only a recent thing I learned in my passable but not fluent French adventures (I visit the Maritimes/upper St John Valley once a year) I like poutine. I don’t need poutin, thanks.

      Also, Ameribucks is awesome. Well done. I’m also going to steal Canadough from Anne. Because also a lovely word.

  5. Lovely view! I can’t wait to get back to the snow in a few weeks, and then into the real snow in March. Also, je parle Francais, so I’ll go with you next time, k? 😉

  6. You saw French on the signs because you were in a national park. Aside from those, military bases, and border crossings, you have to go a lot farther east to spot it in the wild.

    You may have actually spoken better French than any of the employees you tried to talk to.

  7. Another pro-tip: On road trip with family, try not to fall down the stairs at a restaurant, spillning everything in your purse in front of a bussload of German tourists. Some took pictures!

  8. So glad to hear you had a great time up here with us in Canada! I have been there myself many times and can recall quite a few spots that would be ripe for googly eyes around the hotel – please tell me you left your mark at least once! You really should try to get back to Lake Louise in the summer months, it is spectacular to behold!

  9. Did you get to spend any time in my hometown of Calgary? I know you were here for the 2013 Calgary Expo.

  10. UK person here. I had the great joy of taking a road trip from Calgary to Vancouver a couple of decades ago – we had no fixed plans, just drove the route staying at whatever place took our fancy. Stayed in some great (and one not so great, but them’s the breaks when you wing it) places. Lake Louise was a definite favourite and I can assure you it is utterly stunning in the summer too.

    Also, 2 decade old pro-tip – visiting these places in Summer meant we stayed in some fabulous ski resorts that would cost mucho cannuckbucks in Winter for hardly any cash at all. Whistler was particularly awesome value.

  11. I loved hearing you read this out loud on Radio Free Burrito. Even though I’ve followed you on Twitter for years, I realized this is the first time I’ve ever heard your voice! I appreciate your efforts at bell intervention, even if it wasn’t always successful.

    It sounds like you had the perfect vacation. 🙂

  12. Love Lake Louise and area. Glad you had a good time. Did you get up to Banff at all? They have this fantastic hot springs which is lovely in the winter, and one of our favourite spots to visit when I was little.

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