Category Archives: Destinations

4 Days in Paris: Musee D’Orsay Highlights Day 1

The grand Musee D’Orsay, one of the most important museums in the world, is housed in a magnificent Beaux-Arts train station built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

On my first morning in Paris, as I set out from the Hotel Napoleon just across from the Arc de Triomphe in the tony 8th Arrondisement, at 10 am for a beautiful walk down Champs-Elysee to Place de la Concorde, passed the Grand Palais, across the Seine, passed the National Assembly to my destination, the Musee d’Orsay, I am immediately under the city’s spell.

Paris is regal. Majestic. Monumental. The scale of the boulevards, the buildings, the structures. It is big and bustling, but curiously, you don’t feel choked or overwhelmed – probably because no structure is taller than the Eiffel Tower and you can see out, and because the city is designed around open spaces –the wide boulevards, gigantic plazas, parks, the Seine flowing through. There are places to sit, even water fountains and misting stations, while the smaller neighborhoods, with their narrow twisting roads, are quaint and quiet (little traffic).

The level of grandeur is breathtaking, and for a moment I am thinking that only a monarchy could have built this, a democracy never would have. But in the next, I am reminded that only the Revolution opened them for public purpose.

A view of Le Louvre. Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, making strolling ideal.
© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I walk everywhere and Paris makes it easy (and safe). Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, making strolling ideal. But for getting around, Paris is also a biking city with superb bike lanes, traffic signals (get preference over cars, in fact), and huge number of bike share stations.

It is helpful to have paper map, and not just rely on cell phone GPS (remember to download maps when you have WiFi so can access offline – I keep forgetting), but it is part of the joy of the travel experience to rely on the kindness of locals to point you in the right direction, even with limited French.

It is essential to plan your visit to Paris’ top museums and attractions in advance, and pre-purchase timed ticket, or book a time if you have the Paris Museum Pass (http://en.parismuseumpass.com/) or Paris Pass (parispass.com), and try to book as early a time as possible, or evening hours.

And though it is better to try to visit on weekdays, considering that the Musee D’Orsay is closed on Monday (I book my Le Louvre visit for that day), I pre-booked my visit for Sunday.

Musee d’Orsay

The grand Musee D’Orsay, one of the most important museums in the world, is housed in a magnificent Beaux-Arts train station built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 

The Musee d’Orsay is housed in what had been a truly grand train station, a Beaux-Arts jewel built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900. It is famous for its fabulous collection of French art from 1848 to 1914 – paintings, sculpture, furniture, photography – including the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world.

Here you can experience for yourself (in relative peace, mind you) the exquisite works of Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gaugain and Berthe Morisot – actually it seems just about all my favorite paintings by my favorite artists, as well as being introduced to outstanding works I am unfamiliar with.

The grand Musee D’Orsay, one of the most important museums in the world, famous for its collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists including Van Gogh, is housed in a magnificent Beaux-Arts train station built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The layout of the galleries is exquisite, and the views from the fifth floor gallery where the Van Goghs are displayed and from the Restaurant (you look through the massive clock to Sacre Coeur on Montmartre, like those scenes in the movie, “Hugo”) take your breath away.

The Musee D’Orsay makes for exquisite viewing of masterpieces © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Though the Musee D’Orsay is one of the largest museums in the world and the second most popular to visit in France after Le Louvre, it doesn’t feel large or crowded or intimidating. The clever layout – a warren of smaller galleries off a main, open hall – makes it feel more intimate and calm, even as I stand in front of such a popular painting as Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” (I think this is the equivalent of the Mona Lisa in Le Louvre). The way you realize just how vast the museum is – at any time about 3,000 art pieces are on display – is by realizing you’ve been there for four hours. Time melts away, like the humongous clocks you get to see through to Paris’ magnificent skyscape.

View to Montmartre through the Musee D’Orsay clock© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The museum has 24 Van Goghs including such renowned works as L’ArlésienneBedroom in ArlesSelf Portrait, portrait of his friend Eugène BochThe SiestaThe Church at AuversView from the ChevetThe Italian WomanStarry NightPortrait of Dr. GachetDoctor Gachet’s Garden in AuversImperial Fritillaries in a Copper VaseSaint-Paul Asylum, Saint-RémySelf Portrait.

As popular as Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” is, you still get a moment almost to yourself to enjoy it, at Musee D’Orsay © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Van Gogh gallery on Level 5 has an added attraction: the most magnificent views across the Seine of Le Louvre to Montmartre from one set of windows, the Eiffel Tower from another.

View from the Van Gogh Gallery at Musee D’Orsay © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are 81 Renoirs including “The Swing” (significant when I visit the Musee de Montmartre and see the spot where he painted it!), and 18 by Toulouse-Lautrec, plus James McNeill Whistler’s famous “The Artist’s Mother’, better known as “Whistler’s Mother.”

As I go through galleries of portraits, I wonder whether the sitters contemplated becoming immortal, that their visages would be admired and their personas wondered about for centuries.

“A Street in Paris,” by Maximilien Luce shows the power of painting to document © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides seeing “in person” the art works that are among the most famous in the world (and it seems just about all my favorites), there are masterpieces by artists that may not be as “top of mind” to explore and discover as well. One, “A Street in Paris,” by Maximilien Luce, that is so haunting, depicting “Bloody Week” of May 21-28, 1871, and the brutal suppression of the Commune, a revolutionary movement that emerged from the political chaos after the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the fall of the Second Empire, events immortalized in Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” and the musical “Les Mis” which Luce painted 30 years after the event that so affected Luce.

It is a further demonstration of the power of art to document history, events, and bring faraway places to people, especially before photography.

Thank goodness, the really excellent notes are presented in French and English (not so in many other places).

The atmosphere of the museum is like putting yourself into the canvas.

Restaurant at Musee D’Orsay © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides the full-service restaurant, there is an absolutely delightful café in the lower level – reasonably priced and very comfortable, where I get refueled.

Towards the end of my visit, I find myself in a grand ballroom which feels weird.

Captivated by the clocks at Musee D’Orsay © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s a feeling of complete joy of being in that space stays with you, that rushes back like warm water, even as I review my photos later.

Open from 9.30 am to 6 pm daily, except Mondays; late night on Thursdays until 9.45 pm

Musee D’Orsay, Esplanade Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, 75007 Paris, https://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/

Ile de la Cite

From the Musee D’Orsay, I stroll down the quai along the Seine, with the marvelous book/magazine sellers, to the Pont Neuf (the oldest bridge in Paris) to Île de la Cité, a small island in the center of Paris where Notre-Dame and Sainte-Chapelle are found. It is the historic heart of Paris.

Colorful vintage magazine and newspaper sellers line the Quai © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I am really interested to see the progress on the restoration of Notre-Dame Cathedral, after that devastating fire of April 15, 2019.

There is an excellent photo exhibit by photographer Tomas van Houtryve with notes documenting the dramatic story of the restoration.

A photo exhibit explains the reconstruction project of Notre-Dame Cathedral © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A short walk from Notre-Dame, in a small park, I come upon Holocaust Memorial to the 31,000 Parisians sent to Auschwitz.

Holocaust Memorial near Notre-Dame Cathedral © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also close to Notre Dame on the Ile de Cite is Sainte-Chappelle, famous for its stained glass windows.

Sainte-Chapelle is considered one of the finest examples of Rayonnant period of Gothic architecture. Built between 1238-1248, the royal chapel was commissioned by King Louis IX to house his collection of Passion relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns – one of the most important relics in medieval Christendom. It served as the residence of France’s kings until the 14th century.

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A curious chart outside the chapel shows that Sainte-Chappelle cost 266,000 gold francs for the elevation of its spire and the restoration of the roof, equivalent to 1.06 million Euros, total weight 232.4 tons, 75 meters high from ground level, work done between 1853-1855.

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Notre Dame Cathedral: cost 500,000 gold francs for the elevation of its spire, equivalent of 2 million euros today; total weight 750 tons, 96 meter high from ground, work from 1859 to 1860.

Adjacent to Sainte-Chapelle is La Conciergerie, the palace where Marie-Antoinette was held before her execution (it’s closed by the time I arrive).

Sainte-Chapelle and Conciergerie, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sainte-Chapelle and Conciergerie are operated as a museum by the French Centre of National Monuments.

La Sainte Chapelle, https://www.sainte-chapelle.fr

I pick up food for my dinner at a boulangerie on the quai.

Tuileries Garden, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Walking back to the Hotel Napoleon, I stroll alongside the full length of Le Louvre museum – once a palace – stunned by how large, and how exquisitely ordained it is (I will be visiting the next day), through Tuileries Garden to the Place de la Concorde, the largest square in Paris, where King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and Robespierre were executed by guillotine during the French Revolution.

Place de la Concorde, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I walk by the Petit Palais (where there is a Sarah Bernhardt exhibit I wish I could have seen; free admission to the collections!), to the Champs-Élysées. (There is really good signage that direct you to the places visitors most want to see.)

Petit Palais, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Eiffel Tower

I get back to the Hotel Napoleon and rest awhile before heading out again to see the Eiffel Tower at night.

I walk down the Champs Elysee, cross over toward the Seine and take in the classic café scene. There are innumerable couples in this City of Love.

Café George V, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The view from across the Seine – with the Bateaux Mouches (sightseeing boats) passing by – is enchanting enough, but seeing the Tower from its base is breathtaking.

View of Eiffel Tower across the Seine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Eiffel Tower is one of most beautiful structures in world – so elegant, so graceful, seemingly as light, delicate and intricate as filigree. I am surprised to learn that the design was criticized, even ridiculed when Gustave Eiffel, the engineer whose company designed and built the tower from 1887 to 1889, proposed it.

Eiffel Tower, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Nicknamed “La dame de fer” (“Iron Lady”), it was constructed as the centerpiece of the 1889 World’s Fair, and to crown the centennial anniversary of the French Revolution. (The tower also was supposed to be a temporary installation, but Eiffel pushed to have its lease extended and ultimately, became a permanent fixture of the city.)

Eiffel Tower, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We marvel at its beauty but in 1889, the tower was celebrated more as a historic feat of engineering: the first structure in the world to surpass both the 200-meter and 300-meter marks in height. At 330 meters (1,083 ft.) high, the Eiffel Tower is equivalent to an 81-storey building, and still is the tallest structure in Paris, dominating the skyline from wherever you are. During its construction, the Eiffel Tower surpassed the Washington Monument to become the tallest man-made structure in the world, a title it held for 41 years until dethroned by New York City’s Chrysler Building in 1930.

Eiffel Tower, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The tower has three levels that visitors can reach, with restaurants on the first two. The top level’s upper platform is 276 m (906 ft) above the ground – the highest observation deck accessible to the public in the European Union.

It is fascinating to learn that the top level was actually a private apartment built for Gustave Eiffel’s personal use, which he decorated with furniture by Jean Lachaise and invited friends such as American inventor Thomas Edison. Today, you can’t visit the entire apartment, but there is a reconstruction of Gustave Eiffel’s office. Through the windows, you can see wax figures of Gustave Eiffel and his daughter Claire being visited by Edison.  

Eiffel Tower, Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is also a new immersive experience that takes you inside Gustave Eiffel’s office (accessed by scanning a QR code on the first floor). While waiting for the lift on the first floor, you can also peruse historical documents with monitors, tactile screens, display cases, digital albums and photocopies of objects.

There are also new guided tours which must be booked online

The Eiffel Tower is one of the highlights of visiting Paris – in fact, one of the most-visited pay-to-enter monuments in the world, with almost 6 million visitors a year. It is almost essential to book a timed ticket ahead of time.

The wait for tickets – if they are not totally sold out – can be long. If you have interest in going to the top, book your tickets as soon as you know your dates for Paris. (Online tickets go on sale 60 days in advance for the elevator.) 

But for a completely different experience (and if tickets for the elevator are sold out), you can also climb the stairs – from ground level to the first level is over 374 steps, and 300 more to the second, making the entire ascent 674 steps – about 20 minutes per level.

Stairway tickets for the second floor are sold online (up to 10 days in advance) or sold on-site. If you want to go to the top, you would need to purchase “stairway + lift” tickets. These tickets are only sold on-site in the South leg of the tower, guaranteeing minimal queueing times (only the most gung-ho visitors), where you take the stairs up. In peak periods, another leg may be opened for stairway ascents.

Other experiences: Madame Brasserie offers a lunch and dinner menu on the first floor (reservations strongly advised; the reservation includes the ascent to the 1st floor of the Eiffel Tower, but not to visit to the 2nd floor or to the top).

Reservations for dining or eating at the Jules Verne (2nd floor) must be made on the dedicated website. If you make a reservation for the Jules Verne, a private lift in the south pillar will take you directly to the restaurant when you arrive. The visit of the Eiffel tower is not included.

You can book your ticket for the top of the Eiffel Tower and add a glass of champagne at the champagne bar. The champagne bar at the top is open every day, from 10.30 am to 10.30 pm. 

I would say the most enchanting time to experience the Eiffel Tower is at night.

Eiffel Tour, Champ de Mars, 5 Av. Anatole France, 75007 Paris, France, https://www.toureiffel.paris/en/planning-smooth-visit, https://www.toureiffel.paris/en/rates-opening-times

I stand in a park at the tower’s base, where there is a festive atmosphere among the throngs of people gathered – but for the Olympics, there will be a stadium built in front of the tower, before walking back to the Hotel Napoleon.

What a day – I must have walked 12 miles plus 3 hours worth in the museum. Here’s where I went:

Musee D’Orsay

Notre-Dame Cathedral

Sainte-Chapelle

Tuileries Garden

Place de Concorde

Champs-Elysee

Eiffel Tower at night

More planning help from the Paris Tourist Office, https://parisjetaime.com/eng/. Online ticketing at https://parisjetaime.com/eng/tickets.

Next: Day2 Highlighted by Le Louvre

See also:

ROMANCE IS AT THE HEART OF THE HOTEL NAPOLEON IN PARIS, CITY OF LOVE

VISITING PARIS THIS YEAR? PLAN IN ADVANCE

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© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

New Brunswick Roadtrip Begins in St. Andrews

Picturesque, historic St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, with Dave E. Leiberman, Laini Miranda & Eric Leiberman

Travel Features Syndicate, www.goingplacesfarandnear.com

Perhaps the most defining feature of New Brunswick, Canada is that it has the highest tides in the world. But unless you see it, stand in it, walk on the ocean floor one hour and kayak through rock openings the next, it is hard to wrap your head around what it means to say the Bay of Fundy has the “highest tides” in the world.

Rising tide, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Seeing, experiencing this phenomenon for ourselves is just one of the reasons that brought us to New Brunswick, one of Canada’s Atlantic Maritime provinces and the only one of its 11 provinces that is officially bilingual (English and French). Other unique aspects were also intriguing – like seeing the vestiges of Pangea, primordial earth before the continents split apart, in one of the world’s first and most expansive UNESCO Geoparks; fossils 3.5 billion years old; and the intriguing phenomenon of Reversing Falls (one of only two places in the world).

We are also really excited to sample a new bike trail, 375 miles around the coast, that let us tour its (very French) Acadian Peninsula, going through small villages where the flag most prominently waved is that of Acadia, not New Brunswick or Canada. And then there are the bonus surprises where you can see living history of the First Nations and a colonial Acadian Village.

New Brunswick also is surprisingly easy to reach, located adjacent to Maine (there are 17 border crossings), yet so delightfully foreign and exotic because it is relatively unknown and unexplored beyond New Englanders.

St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada, a picturesque seaside historic town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We start our New Brunswick exploration in St. Andrews, one of Canada’s most popular seaside resort towns – wonderfully picturesque, with a surprising amount of things to do.

It is also where we will launch our 10-day trip that will take us on the scenic 286-mile Fundy Coastal Drive (St. Andrews, Saint John, St. Martins, Fundy Trail Parkway, Alma, Cape Enrage and Hopewell Rocks), and on to Miramichi and the Acadian Peninsula, where we will cycle the new Acadian Peninsula Veloroute from Tracadie to Shippagan, Miscou Island and Caraquet. (We are grateful to Tourism New Brunswick for creating our itinerary.)

St. Andrews, designated a National Historic Site of Canada, is a charming community with many of the town’s buildings still reflecting its founding by the United Empire Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution,  especially as we walk along Water Street.

Kingsbrae Garden

Renoir and Monet would have loved Kingsbrae Garden, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our first morning, we explore an absolute treasure of St. Andrews: Kingsbrae Garden, set on 27 acres donated by John and Lucinda Flemer. This was her family’s summer home – she tells stories of taking the train from their Montreal home and  hiding in the century-old hedges which we walk through today. In fact, at 93 years old, Lucinda still lives here, walks the grounds most days (making sure everything is up to snuff), Daniel Schmids, director of operations, relates as he guides us around.

In 1996, Mrs. Flemer wanted to do something to benefit the community. She originally thought to create a school to train guide dogs, but the tourism office suggested that a garden would benefit the community more, Lucinda was not a garden hobbyist, botanist nor landscape architect. Nor was Geoff Slater, the artist she chose to design her garden (we see his murals on Water Street). She laid out her vision for the Garden one evening sitting at her kitchen table with Slater over a bottle of wine, and Kingsbrae Garden opened two years later.

Kingsbrae Garden, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The gardens are gorgeous – works of art, really – but they are so much more. You feel the heart, the compassion, that went into their creation and design. You feel as nurtured and protected as the flowers. I have never been so simultaneously excited and serene at the same time.

Kingsbrae pays tribute to some of the great garden traditions such as the White, Rose, Knot Garden, Perennial and Cottage gardens.

One of the classic gardens at Kingsbrae Garden, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are also experimental gardens where new and old styles and plant materials are used to preserve and promote home gardening, like the Container Garden (to give apartment dwellers ideas, inspired by her time living in England). Display gardens showcase various collections of plant species and their uses – Rhododendron, Heath & Heather, Ornamental Shrub, Dwarf Conifer, Herb, Hydrangea and Gravel gardens. But Kingsbrae goes far beyond horticulture.

Lucinda Flemer designed Kingsbrae Garden with an artist’s eye © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is a Labyrinth & Maze, a Bee Garden (the bees essential to pollinate the flowers), a Monarch Garden (a certified Monarch butterfly way station providing not only the milkweed that Monarchs require but a protected place for the egg larvae to develop), a Secret Garden, and Memory Lane (a row of special trees planted in memory of someone).

Kingsbrae Garden, St. Andrews, is a certified Monarch butterfly way station; larvae are taken and protected in shelters© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is a Peace Garden and Afghanistan Memorial to honor and give comfort to war dead and veterans (military people get free admission); a therapy garden (the gardens work with Wounded Warriors to use gardening to relieve stress); a Scents and Sensitivity garden that invites you to identify the plant by smell or touch (the accompanying sculpture of a guide dog pays homage to Lucinda’s original idea). There is an orchard containing heirloom varieties of apple trees. An Edible Garden showcases edible plants, native and exotic fruits and berries (where the Garden Café chef makes a daily collection for his culinary creations before visitors arrive).

Animals are among the special delights at Kingsbrae Garden, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Favorites are the Children’s Garden and a Fantasy Garden that provide outdoor environments for play and learning, with tiny cottages and animals including goats, alpacas and rabbits. The children’s garden is bordered by a “living fence” of 100 criss-crossing apple trees that have grown together over the past 10 years.

The living fence of criss-crossed apple trees border the Children’s Garden at Kingsbrae Garden, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Possibly the most extraordinary sight is the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis), a 200 million year old species thought to be extinct but re-discovered by a hiker in Australia; some were auctioned and a St. Andrews man won one and gifted it to Kingsbrae, now protected within a cage.

The rare, thought to be extinct, Wollemi Pine is on view at Kingsbrae Garden, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Since dinosaurs roamed the earth to the present electronic era, a few Wollemi pines have patiently survived with their gene pool pure and unchanged, in the Blue Mountains of Australia. What was likely a tasty treat Cretaceous dinosaurs munched on for lunch is a botanical story of the century.”

One of the most magnificent displays is the working Dutch windmill, built to one-third scale. Mrs. Flemer’s husband, John, who was Dutch, had it built as an anniversary gift in 1997 (he passed 6 years ago).

Lucinda Flemer’s husband, John, had this one-third scale Dutch windmill constructed as an anniversary present. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can explore a kilometer-long groomed trail through the Acadian forest and an Audubon-certified bird sanctuary, which she created after a visit to India.

Lucinda Flemer had not been a gardening person, but was art-oriented and wanted to create Kingsbrae for “the eye of artist”.

The Gardens even offers an art residency for six artists a year, housed in a historic 1908 building she purchased.

Kingsbrae Garden is Canada’s largest private sculpture collection © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And all the way through, tucked here and there, are sculptures that convey a theme or message or are just whimsical (like an apple core you can sit on), as well as a Sculpture Garden. Indeed, Kingsbrae Garden is Canada’s largest private sculpture collection. For many years Lucinda sponsored a sculpture competition, purchasing the top prize winners for the Garden. Now she commissions works. We see the most recent acquisition, a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, appropriately in the Heath and Heather Garden.

A sculptural tribute to Queen Elizabeth II in the Heath & Heather Garden at Kingsbrae Garden, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Everywhere you look there is some delightful surprise.

Lucinda Flemer built the garden and then decided to build an 1100-seat amphitheater – in a town of 2500 people! “People laughed. But she thought, ‘Build it and they will come,’” Daniel tells us. And they did. The amphitheater hosts 8 to 10 events a year including Broadway productions (a local actor was Broadway’s “Come From Away” and “Rock of Ages,” and his wife is a casting director), in 2022, one event filled the amphitheater twice.

“She was inspired by what was done well, so she brought here to show people what they otherwise wouldn’t see – the same with art residency. People get to experience different culture.”

Seniors who live in a residence next door come in for free through a special gate. In July and August, there are special mobility tours by golf cart.

Kingsbrae Garden, St. Andrews, offers whimsical delights like this apple core sculpture that invites you to sit © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We have the most delectable lunch at the Garden’s Café, with items enhanced by the freshly picked produce from the garden, which also houses an Art Gallery. On view are paintings created by the artist who designed Kingsbrae, Geoff Slater (he’s known for paintings out of a single line in changing colors) who also painted the murals on Water Street.

Café executive chef Alex Haun, grew up in St Andrews, started working at Kingsbrae at15 years old as a dishwasher (his father managed the garden). Haun went to Canadian Culinary Institute, competed in International Culinary Olympics, winning multiple gold medals. He probably could have gone anywhere in the world but returned to Kingsbrae. His Signature 12-course “Savor” dinner menu, offered three times a year, sells out immediately.

Kingsbrae Garden, 220 King Street, St. Andrews, 506-529-3335, www.kingsbraegarden.com (Open May-October).

Whale Watching

Dave and I have to rush away from this delectable lunch to get to the dock for a whale watching tour with Jolly Breeze Whale Adventures.

Jolly Breeze Whale Watching Adventures, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Whale watching is very popular in St. Andrews and there are many different companies. I am thrilled to be taking Jolly Breeze’s 12-passenger Zodiac – extremely comfortable, low to the water, very flexible so you are unlikely to get sea sick, and the Captain can maneuver more easily to get closer to a whale (keeping an appropriate distance).

It is very early in the season and it is really by virtue of Captain Randy’s experience (he started working on the boats when he was 13), knowing whale behavior and pattern and skill that toward the end of the 2 ½ hour cruise, we spot a Minke whale.

But even if we didn’t get to spot a whale, the cruise is really fun on the Zodiac.

The picturesque East Quoddy Lighthouse is spotted on Jolly Breeze Whale Watching Adventures, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 

They dress us in gear that looks like we are off to explore the Arctic, so we are absolutely comfortable on the Zodiac. We get to see the picturesque East Quoddy Lighthouse, built in 1829 on a small, rocky islet located off the northern tip of Campobello Island (was frequented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and today is the world’s only national park, shared by two countries, Canada and the USA), as well as puffin and seals.

Jolly Breeze Whale Watching Adventures, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

If it had been a little more into the season we might have seen as many as four different whale species that frequent this area at different times in the season. One of the regulars is an Orca they call “Old Tom.”

There is not much splash on the Zodiac, so you can bring a good camera with long lens and a dry bag is available on request.

Jolly Breeze Whale Adventures on the wharf at 4 King Street. 506-529-8116, https://jollybreeze.com.

Ministers Island

Driving across the sand bridge to Ministers Island, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We need to pull ourselves away from wandering St. Andrews’ charming downtown by 5 pm, in order to visit Ministers Island, Canada’s largest tidal island and a National Historic Site. Since you have to drive across a sand road (Bar Road) that is quickly overrun at high tide, covered by 15 feet of water (when it becomes an island), we have to mind the time. We will have to be off at 7 pm when the tide quickly envelops the road (rangers round up any stragglers). Each day, there are two windows of opportunity to travel to the island depending on the tide schedule.

Ministers Island, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Ministers Island is a 500 acre island, 2 miles by 1 mile, located in Passamaquoddy Bay,  where Sir William Van Horne built his summer home, Covenhoven, in 1890 – a 50-room mansion, with 17 bedrooms, 11 fireplaces, 11 bathrooms – and the only place still standing that is associated with this significant historic figure.

Sir William Cornelius Van Horne was an American recruited to build Canada’s 2,900 mile-long transcontinental railroad system, finishing a year ahead of schedule (earning a $1 million bonus).

The mansion remained in the Van Horne family until 1961 when it was sold to two Americans, our guide, Susan Goertzen, relates. By 1977, they wanted to auction it off and sold off most of furnishings and artifacts. But three days into the auction, the Province of New Brunswick stopped the sale and bought it. The mansion was closed from 1977 until 1992.

In 2004, a local group took over the operation and put out a call to get back some of the original furnishings and artifacts. It is furnished today with original and period pieces. Most interesting are the paintings that Van Horne painted, the portraits and photographs, the travel posters, the original ice box and stove, his billiards table and game room.

Van Horne’s original dining set at Covenhoven on Ministers Island, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the “Canadian Pacific Room” you learn a lot about Van Horne – an inventor, an amateur geologist who collected fossils (his collection was given to the University of Chicago), an artist and a major art collector. It is said he only slept four hours a night.

Truly a self-made man, Van Horne, was born in Illinois in 1843, and had to quit school at age 14 when his father died to go to work as a telegraph operator for the Illinois Central Railroad. By 1880 he was general superintendent of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad system. In 1881, he was recruited to become general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway and by 1885, had completed the transcontinental railway system.

The self-made man, Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, built Canada’s transcontinental railroad © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.co

Van Horne was not only the architect of Canada’s transcontinental railroad, he was the progenitor of its tourism industry, designing and building a network of Canadian Pacific Hotels. One of the original hotels was the Algonquin here in St. Andrews, where we get to stay; another was the famous Banff Springs Hotel.

We visit the windmill he built to pump water from a 10,000 gallon holding tank (actually a railway water car) 127 feet below ground into the house for running water.

Ministers Island, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You also can see the carriage house (a gorgeous carriage inside) and an amazing barn which features antique cars, and the magnificent 1911 bath house that overlooks a “natural” swimming pool cut from the rock just below. The setting is absolutely stunning, and can also be enjoyed picnicking and hiking on several marked trails.

There is much to explore on Ministers Island: a shell midden archaeological site, and the 1790 home of Loyalist and Anglican minister Samuel Andrews, a creamery, a livestock barn, a boarding house, an automobile garage, a horse stable, and a greenhouse. 

But the tide will soon come in and we have to hurry back. Dave and Eric opt to run down from the hilltop mansion along the trail over the sand bridge (we are only a little concerned about them making it before the tide overwhelms the road again), back into St. Andrews, where we meet for dinner.

Ministers Island, 506-529-5081 https://www.ministersisland.net/ (Open May-October, Admission, $17/adults).

Dave and Eric race the incoming tide as they dash from Ministers Island, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Where to Stay, Dine

There are so many charming restaurants and cafes along Water Street.

The previous day we sampled some of the town’s marvelous restaurants and sights.

The Niger Reef Tea House (1 Joes Point Rd, St. Andrews, 506-529-8005, nigerreefteahouse.com) is a real find, offering the most marvelous ambiance and distinctive cuisine. It’s where the locals go for an elegant, sophisticated dinner in a homey, casual, comfortable but classy atmosphere. It looks like a Japanese teahouse – in fact, the magnificent murals painted by Lucille Davenport in the 19th century were uncovered when the residence was converted to the tea house in 1926.

Enjoying a meal and the ambiance at Niger Reef Teahouse in St. Andrews © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We start with the oysters served on kelp that chef Anthony Davidson has dashed out to the Bay to gather, enjoy the jerk chicken and pesto pizza, and finish with the delectable strawberry rhubarb crumble (the rhubarb is growing in the garden).

The setting – a sprawling lawn that goes down to the Bay – also lets us explore The Blockhouse, the town’s last remaining wooden defensive structure from the War of 1812 (great for picnicking and view of harbor).

Sunset, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This evening, we find a delightful deck to enjoy the view of the wharf and sunset at Saint Andrews Brewing Company (201 Water St.,  506-529-2337) set in what was the Customs House, which serves snacks but invites you to order in the rest of the meal. We order from a delightful restaurant just across the plaza, The Red Herring Pub, (211 Water St., 506-529-8455 – they even delivered!) and just revel in the scenery.

Sunset, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We go down to the wharf to take in a magnificent sunset, but I rush away to get to our hotel, the grand, historic Algonquin Resort, in time for the 9 pm Ghost Tour.

The Algonquin Resort is reputed to be haunted and is said to be the inspiration for Stephen King’s horror story, The Shining. (Bangor, Maine, where King lives, is a two-hour drive from St. Andrews.)

The Ghost Tour is a fun way to see parts of the resort you would otherwise never see. We creep through the underground passageway (the staff wasn’t allowed to be seen by the guests in their street clothes) as our guide tells the story of the tunnel being haunted by a ‘night watchman’ (people hear his keys rattling). There is a haunted piano (one of only two items from the original 1889 hotel that was saved from a fire that destroyed it in 1914; Van Horne had it rebuilt and reopened just six months later) which people claim to hear play even though it is locked shut with a key that cannot be replaced; he tells about a boy named Benjamin who people claim they hear bouncing a ball.

Walking through underground passageway on the Algonquin’s Ghost Tour St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I finish the ghost tour in time to take in the wonderful ambiance of the resort and enjoy the Algonquin’s indoor pool and water slide.

One of the original Canadian Pacific Hotels (another ingenious Van Horne idea to promote travel on the railroad) and now part of the Marriott Autograph Collection, the Algonquin lets you drift back into that grand era as soon as you step across the threshold.


The grand, historic Algonquin Resort, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Set on a hilltop overlooking the town (and just next to Kingsbrae Gardens), The Algonquin has the most magnificent outdoor pool complex, an indoor pool with a water slide, tennis courts, 18-hole golf course. It also has a fleet bicycles available just for the asking to bike over the beautiful Van Horne Trail, built on what had been the train tracks. We wake up early to take advantage before we have to tear ourselves away (you really want to stay) to continue on to our next New Brunswick adventure, in the historic city of St. John.

Algonquin Resort, 184 Adolphus Street, St. Andrews, 506-529-8823, https://www.marriott.com/en-gb/en-gb/hotels/travel/ysjak-the-algonquin-resort-st-andrews-by-the-sea-autograph-collection/

For planning help, visit Tourism New Brunswick, 800-561-0123, www.tourismnewbrunswick.ca   

Next: New Brunswick Roadtrip: Saint John, a City of Oldests, Firsts, Amazements

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© 2023 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/KarenBRubin 

Pursuit Collection Celebrates a Century of Tourism Enterprise in Banff

Natalie Wuthrich takes us on an Open Top sightseeing tour of Banff, Canada, in vehicles recreated from the original, one of the many tourism ventures begun by the Brewsters and carried on by Pursuit Collection © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

It wasn’t mining or farming that brought settlers to Banff. It was tourism. Banff was built for tourism. Even before the railroad (built to cajole the western territory to join Canada instead of the United States), even before three railway workers discovered the hot springs that pinpointed Banff as a destination and Canada’s first national park, and before Canadian Pacific Railroad built its world-famous, grand Banff Springs Hotel, this was a gathering place for indigenous peoples for centuries if not millennia. 

Travelers, adventurers, pioneers, artists have come under the spell of this place – its majestic scenery, the heady feeling of pure crisp air at altitude – and so have entrepreneurs and innovators.

Banff has attracted adventurers, sportsmen, artists, writers for 150 years. The city, wholly contained within Canada’s first national park, accommodates locals and visitors alike with scenic walking paths and hiking trails © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Two clever young entrepreneurs, the Brewster brothers, were among those visionaries responsible for building Banff – turning a fledgling guide service when they were just teenagers into Banff’s first tour company, then added hotels and bus operations.

Flash forward 100 years, and the long list of tourism enterprises they launched are under the Pursuit Collection umbrella, now part of a U.S.-based company, that stretches well beyond Banff, to Jasper and Watertown; to Glacier National Park in Montana, to Alaska and even to Iceland, including some that the clever brothers never could have imagined – Sky Lagoon, a new geothermal hot pool in Reykjavik, Iceland, and Flyover virtual reality experiences (where you get to sightsee an entire country in a matter of minutes) in Vancouver, Las Vegas, Iceland and soon Chicago and Toronto. And just opened, the Railrider Mountain Coaster – a 3,375-foot mountain coaster at the Golden Skybridge in Golden, B.C. (the first of its kind in Western Canada it is the fastest and largest mountain coaster in Canada).

I get an actual flyover experience as I jet from Toronto across Canada’s vast plains, still blanketed in white snow, to Calgary, Alberta, at the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, to sample many of the Pursuit Collection services that make Banff such a delightful, year-round visitor experience.

I am following an endless stream of visitors to Banff, lured by the spectacular majesty Canada’s Rocky Mountains that 150 years ago competed with the Alps for mountaineers.

My introduction to what the Brewster boys accomplished is the Brewster Express bus service from Calgary International Airport to the Mount Royal Hotel (also Pursuit Collection) in Banff. The service is so efficient – both the agent at the Brewster desk and the driver have my name on a list, and I board a comfortable coach to enjoy the scenic ride that takes 90-120 minutes. “Welcome to Calgary,” the driver rings out cheerily, “the sunniest place in Canada.” We set off after he gives us a safety talk.

I check-in to the Mount Royal Hotel, founded in 1908 as the Banff Hotel, making it one of Banff’s oldest hotels, which the Brewsters acquired in 1912. In fact, the Cascade Hotel, an older hotel, is incorporated into the today’s building with four wings, each representing a different era, that spans the entire block.

The historic Mount Royal Hotel is walking distance to everything in Banff © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Mount Royal Hotel is perfectly situated, walking distance to everything. The view from my window onto the charming streetscape with the mountain peaks behind takes my breath away. The service is wonderfully friendly, hospitable, with every creature comfort provided – the rooms are even equipped with ear plugs and white noise machine (the hotel is right on the main street which has a lively nightlife).

I arrive before meeting my group of three other travel writers and our Pursuit Collection host, early enough in the afternoon to wander about the small, picturesque village, almost entirely ringed by mountain peaks that seem to flow right into the town.

View of Banff from the Sulphur Mountain Summit, reached by the Banff Gondola © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

The entire town of Banff is set within the national park– Canada’s first and since 1984 also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the boundaries of the park expanded out from the hot springs (now a national historic site) to 2,564 square miles (96 percent wilderness), the town’s boundaries are fixed and buildings are limited to three stories high (except for the Mount Royal, with four stories, which is grandfathered). Probably 95 percent of the town’s population of 8,000-9,000 works in tourism (you have to work in Banff in order to buy a house but do not own the land). So it is so interesting to also have stores and services that are for local, everyday use – the high school is right on Banff Avenue (the main street), a hardware store, a grocery store.

View of Banff from my window in the historic Mount Royal Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From a summer retreat – people have been coming on the Canadian Pacific Railroad since 1888 – and beginning in the 1930s when the Brewsters developed Sunshine Mountain into a ski center, Banff has become a year-round destination and today, an iconic ski destination with three ski areas within the national park.

Much of how tourism developed here is due to the Canadian Pacific Railroad, which not only created the means for bringing tourists but built the grand Banff Springs Hotel, opening its doors in 1888.

But so much more is due to the work of other pioneers and entrepreneurs: the Brewster brothers, who from a young age (10 and 12), realized that the tourists wanted to be guided for sightseeing, and exploring the wilderness.

Beginning in 1892, the clever lads hired out as guides, becoming the exclusive outfitter for CP Railroad’s guests, then created a sightseeing service which grew into a fleet of 70 horse-drawn “Tally Ho” carriages; then, as automobiles became popular in the 1920s and 1930s, they introduced specially designed open-top touring vehicles (replicas are now used in a new incarnation of the open-top sightseeing tour). 

The Brewsters hosted major celebrities – there is a marvelous photo we see later at the Whyte Museum of the Brewsters driving King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in their horse-drawn carriage on the royals’ visit to Banff during their 1939 tour of Canada.

Brewster, which celebrated its 100th year, was acquired by Viad, a Phoenix-based investment company, which in 2014, put the various tourism services and experiences under one umbrella, rebranded as Pursuit Collection. This includes the Brewster bus service, Open-Top Sightseeing (in Banff, Jasper and Watertown), the Mount Royal Hotel, Elk & Avenue Hotel, the Banff Gondola (most popular attraction in Banff for good reason), and restaurants including the Sky Bistro (atop the gondola), Farm & Fire, and Brazen, and the Lake Minnewanka marina, cruises and snack shop, plus its Columbia ice field glacier tours (summer). Its tourism operations span Montana, Alaska and now Iceland.  (You can book all the elements and packages on the website; res agents can give ideas, counsel, and there are sample itineraries, www.pursuitcollection.com)

One of the Brewster’s specially designed “open-top” touring vehicles of 100 years ago, on view at Banff’s Whyte Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We get a preview of this season’s Open Top Sightseeing tour in the new, custom built vehicles to explore the people, places and moments that have made Banff. The vintage-inspired automobiles have the look and feel of the 1930s—including a fully-open roof (but with modern comforts like USB charging ports) and a guide dressed in period costume.

Our guide for this preview is Natalie Wuthrich, Open Top Touring’s manager, who tells us that they re-created the open top vehicle from Brewster’s original mold, put on top of a Ford 550 base, then stretched (actually putting two chassis together) so they accommodate 19. She adds that each of the three vehicles has its own personality and quirks (like the windshield wiper goes on by itself). We also get a safety talk before she pulls away from the hotel (three emergency exits!).

The 90-minute tours are offered eight times a day in Banff, and four times in Jasper and Watertown. (The vehicles are available for private charter, wedding, corporate transfer, shuttles for shopping loops.)

She plays music to accompany the mood for the story she is telling. We set out to Billie Holiday’s “A Fine Romance.”

We pass Tanglewood House – one of first of Banff’s buildings, which was originally used as a trading post and post office. Today’s owner is a celebrity of sorts – he makes coffee.

She points to a yellow house styled after houses that were literally transported to Banff in the 1930s from 15 miles away in Bancoff, a coal mining town. When the mine shut, they moved 38 houses using trolleys, in 40 days. Originally sold for $50/room ($250 in today’s money), the homes are now worth $1.5 million each – a reflection of how scarce living space is. In order to purchase a house in Banff, which is within the National Park, you need to reside in Banff and work, own a business, or be a spouse of someone who does, and you only lease the land it’s on because the land belongs to the nation.

We pass by the lovely Banff Center for Arts & Creativity, founded in 1933 to promote visual and performing arts, which offers a hotel, fitness center, artist residencies, studios, and hosts the Banff Mountain Film Festival.

Driving passed Tunnel Mountain, we learn there is actually no tunnel in Tunnel Mountain.

“The railway needed to get to Banff, but a mountain was in the way. The engineer planned to blow a tunnel through mountain so that passengers would pop out at Banff Springs Hotel for a ‘wow’ reveal – but it was too dangerous and expensive, so, instead, the railroad used the natural lay of land and followed the river.” But the name stuck, she says, possibly as an insult. (There is a petition to rename Tunnel Mountain to its indigenous name, Sacred Buffalo Mountain, because it has the shape of a sleeping buffalo.)

Tunnel Mountain is a popular hike right from downtown Banff, with the reward of a 360-degree view from the top.

Canadian Pacific’s Banff Springs Hotel was a critical foundation for tourism to Banff © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We come to the “Castle in the Rockies” – the Banff Springs Hotel. “It was the vision of Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, the general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railroad who was responsible for completing the transcontinental line (in 1885). He built a coast to coast train, but where would the people stay?” in order to experience this magnificent place. (Van Horne designed the hotel and initially, was built backwards, with the better views going to the staff; the originally burned down and was rebuilt in 1914.)

Guests came on the train and stayed at the hotel. Bill and Jim Brewster – their father was a dairy farmer who supplied Banff Springs Hotel – realized the guests needed something else to do, so they started guiding back packers, pack horses, then Tally Ho’s,  the horsedrawn carriage. When automobiles became popular in 1920s and 1930s, they devised 12-passenger open-top automobiles, ultimately building a fleet of 60 vehicles.

The Brewsters hosted major celebrities – there is a marvelous photo we see later at the Whyte Museum of the Brewsters driving King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in their horse-drawn carriage on the royals’ visit to Banff during their 1939 tour of Canada.

The music now is “Stompin at the Savoy,” by the “King of Swing” Benny Goodman, who stayed at the hotel in 1933. As a condition of coming, Natalie relates, he required they build a landing strip so he could pilot his own plane there because he refused to take the train. The landing strip still exists, mainly for emergency and is popular with foraging animals.

We stop to take in the breathtaking view of Mount Rundell, Sulphur Mountain and Tunnel Mountain.

Pursuit Collection’s Open Top sightseeing tour re-creates the Brewster’s sightseeing tour first by Tally Ho horse-drawn carriages and then by specially designed automobile © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We drive up to Norquay – one of three ski areas within Banff National Park. One of the oldest ski hills, its 1948 double chair lift still runs (Marilyn Monroe was photographed here during filming of “River of No Return” in 1953). Among the ski jumpers who came for the 1988 Olympics in Calgary who practiced here was “Eddie the Eagle” who didn’t have the money for the lift ticket, Natalie relates as she serves us hot chocolate.

Natalie regales us with stories of the colorful characters who populated and built Banff.

A toast of hot chocolate on Pursuit Collection’s Open Top sightseeing tour© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bill Peyto, who was an early park warden (1913-1937), was a recluse and a trapper who collected animals for the zoo. Opened in 1907, the zoo showcased cougars, elk, monkeys, and a polar bear known as “Buddy” was closed in 1937 over concerns over animal cruelty, and is now Banff’s Central Park. On this day, he trapped a lynx, sedated it, and decided to get a drink in the Alberta Bar (where Brazen restaurant is today in the Mount Royal Hotel), with the sedated lynx still wrapped around his neck, until it wasn’t.

We pass the Trading Post, which I recall visiting decades ago. It was established by another of Banff’s important founders, Norman Luxton, who came to Banff in 1902 and earned the nickname “Mr. Banff” for all the ventures he launched. The more I learn about Luxton, the more I admire the man. He seems to have been a mix of P.T. Barnum, Wild Bill Hickok, William Hearst, and Thor Heyerdahl, and I can’t get enough of his story, especially as I explore Banff.

Luxton was a real promoter, possibly picking up a few tips from P.T.Barnum, the famous circus promoter. Natalie relates how Luxton got a black bear orphan cub, ‘Teddy,” which he put outside his Trading Post, as “a sure drawing card for eastern city-slickers looking for a piece of the Wild West.” People, who came from all over the world to see Teddy, would buy salty caramel chocolate treats at the trading post to feed the bear, until a boy, as a prank, laced chocolate with chili peppers that so agitated the bear, the park superintendent had the bear removed (he lived with a hotel keeper in Golden) and banned keeping any wild animal as a pet.

Later, when I visit the Trading Post, I see Luxton’s “Merman” from Fiji– a real homage to Barnum who first exhibited his in 1842- which Luxton probably used in place of the bear as a lure to visitors to the store. Luxton’s ventures also included a newspaper, a theater, a hotel, a museum showcasing First Nations (still operating, a must-see)  and boat tours – most still in operation today.

The “Fiji Merman” which Norman Luxton used to draw tourists into his Trading Post © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Luxton began the Winter Carnival events in 1917 that helped turn Banff into a snow-sports destination and from 1909-1950, organized the Banff Indian Days, an annual weekend event that brought locals, tourists and First Nations peoples together in Banff.

Pursuit Collection’s website makes it easy to plan a three-day itinerary out of Banff. A Pursuit Pass provides savings up to 40% when you book Banff, Jasper and Golden’s attractions together, including the Banff Gondola, Columbia Icefield Adventure, Golden Skybridge, Open Top Touring, Lake Minnewanka Cruise and Maligne Lake Cruise.

Lake Minnewanka, still frozen over, becomes a summer destination for lake cruises, boat rentals, hiking, excursions started by Norman Luxton and now part of Pursuit Collection © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Columbia Icefield Adventure (which hadn’t yet started for the season when we visit) features the defining geological heart of Jasper National Park. It includes an Ice Explorer Tour on the Athabasca Glacier (a 10,000-year old sheet of ice you can walk on), admission to the glass-floored Skywalk to walk at the cliff’s edge, and return transportation from the Glacier Discovery Centre.

Pursuit Collection operates the Banff Gondola, a major attraction that brings you to marvelous experiences atop Sulphur Mountain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Pursuit Collection has just opened its newest attraction, the Railrider Mountain Coaster – a 3,375-foot mountain coaster at the Golden Skybridge in Golden, B.C., 90 minutes from Banff. The coaster is the first of its kind in Western Canada and is the fastest and largest mountain coaster in Canada.

The Railrider Mountain Coaster races through an old growth forest between Canada’s two highest suspension bridges. It features an up-track that takes riders 1,180 feet up the canyon, before they descend 2,195 feet, reaching speeds of up to 40 kilometers per hour. Riders then coast under the lush canopy, around a 360-degree loop, through a 50-foot tunnel and finally shoot out onto a cantilever that extends over the majestic Columbia Valley. The coaster features state-of-the-art technology that allows riders to choose their own level of adventure (www.goldenskybridge.com).

You can find Pursuit Collection’s services and attractions at https://www.pursuitcollection.com/; to book Pursuit Collection’s Banff and Jasper experiences, https://www.banffjaspercollection.com/.

Next: Pursuit Collection Offers Feast for Senses and the Soul in Banff

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© 2023 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/KarenBRubin