banff, alberta, canada

When I chose Banff as my destination for Christmas it was just a spot on the map whose name sounded familiar.  When I read that the Fairmont Banff Springs was recently dressed up as Ilvermorny, J.K. Rowlings' North American School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, to celebrate the release of "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" I had an inkling that I would enjoy my stay. But I was simply not prepared for the utter peace that I would feel, cocooned by snow and mountains. My pilgrimage to Banff was a 15-hour, overnight Greyhound from Vancouver, enduring treacherous icy terrain and the sulphurous scent of an overheated bus loo.  The bus arrived at 7.30am on Christmas Eve, our bags promptly deposited in the snow.  There was nothing for it but to strap on my ski gloves, heft my backpack and get moving in the direction of my hostel.  Inside the terminal there was a cacophony of morning sounds - someone microwaving in Tim Hortons, the Brewster travel agent vacuuming, a fellow passenger drinking from the water fountain. I opened the door to the street to a blast of cold air and stepped out into the silence of snow-laden Banff.

I find snow to be the most wondrous experience I have ever encountered. Ok, maybe not the most, but it is absolutely second.  The crunch beneath your feet when it is fresh, the tickle as it lands on exposed flesh, the chill that makes you feel alive.  For an Australian, even one who lives in one of the cooler states, the kind of cold that a truly white Christmas requires is virtually incomprehensible. It is well outside my realm of experience and I craved understanding. When I opened the station door to a pre-dawn snowfall all of my Christmas dreams had already come true. So as I walked the short distance to my accommodation I was wearing one of those silly grins that usually only emerge when you find out that boy you've been keen on for a while wants your number. Banff had well and truly seduced me within the first twenty feet.

The snow fell on my hair and my backpack all the way to the Samesun Hostel on Banff Avenue and the sun was just beginning to rise, an auspicious beginning to my stay!   With friendly, helpful staff, comfortable rooms and a lively nightlife, Samesun can only be described as a jolly place to rest your head.  I had an excellent time here and proving all the benefits of hostel travel, I received the most useful advice from the man on the front desk: for the best coffee in town head to Whitebark for a triple shot latte.  My kinda guy.

The sleepy little town of Banff is reminiscent of the setting for Beauty and the Beast, surrounded on all sides by mountains, winding all the way up to a castle deep in the woods.  It offers so many fairytale moments; in one glance looking for all the world like Narnia, the next Arendelle.  At Christmastime the path to the Fairmont Hotel is engulfed by crisp, white snow flakes; the hush of winter descending in steady falls from above.