Guest Blog by two city trekkers from Saskatoon who love to explore cities around the world who recently discovered Calgary has more charm and character than they originally thought.
Over the past few years we have been able to travel the planet studying the city building experiments that are currently taking place in Europe, Asia, Africa and many American urban areas. It has been an education and we lament the state of most Canadian cities including Calgary. My wife and I have visited Calgary many times over the past 30 years and we even lived there once upon a time. Usually when we are in Calgary we are visiting friends and relatives, so don't have time to explore, however a few weeks ago we found ourselves in a unique position - we had a free Monday morning to spend in Calgary.
What to do? We asked ourselves, what would Richard do? Then, we asked Richard himself.
Based on his recommendations, we spent a wonderful morning enjoying the inner-city Ramsay and Inglewood communities. These areas are enjoying a wonderful urban transformation. We spotted the upside down church right away and then, as he said, Café Rosso was a great place to start exploring. We made new friends with some very creative people over coffee and muffins. Then, because the major galleries were closed on Monday, we just walked the streets of this colourful neighbourhood where you see yards that must have had artists in residence. There are a rich variety of small stores along Inglewood’s historic main street including a fascinating bookstore with nooks and crannies of art on an upper level.
Unlike most Saskatoon people, we are not encumbered by a cottage at the lake, which means we can explore cities all over North America and the world. We are writing this from Prince Edward County in Ontario where we are currently having a wine tasting weekend with friends from Burlington. Two weeks ago we had our bicycles in Minneapolis for a week. This is the perfect way to explore their incredible residential urban lake districts. We love exploring cities.
We are pretty sure this is a trend that involves more folks than us and Richard White. On our latest trip we met some other Saskatchewan folks in the airport who have created their own version of NAFTA. For them it stands for the "North American Fun Travel Arrangement." Twice a year they meet their Texas friends in a new city for fun and urban adventure. They take turns between Canada and the USA. Each couple is responsible for the basic accommodation and activity arrangements in their home country.
In our view, city holidays are a great way to go. It’s great to visit New York, San Francisco and Chicago, but everyone does that. There are so many other interesting places to explore. Some of our favorites include Winnipeg, Kansas City, Pittsburg, Omaha, Memphis, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and now Calgary. There is plenty of fun to be had in these lesser known cities if you are prepared to explore and ask locals for recommendations. They are less expensive, have fewer line-ups, wide selections of amazing VRBO’s and generally people are friendly and happy you came to visit their city.
We would not have found Ramsay, Café Rosso and the “upside down church” without advice from a local. A downtown concierge would have not have made this recommendation. The church (Dennis Oppenheim's "Device to Root Out Evil) was interesting on a number of levels. It raises some interesting theological issues and even calls to mind the bumper sticker, "I'm in favor of the separation of church and hate". It was executed with excellent craftsmanship in a deconstructionist style. The scale was completely appropriate to the context. Too often, public art and the space it occupies are not really synergistic.
Another observation from our recent “off the beaten path” experience in Calgary would be how easy it was to make personal connections in the shops. The owner of the metal shop in Inglewood was interesting and personable. We have seen recycling stores before, but the one on 9th was staffed by an owner/operator. We ended up buying things we didn't need while discussing ideas for products they could add to their inventory. For a city of over one million, Calgary still has lots of areas with small town charm.
We were surprised at how easy it was to find a parking space, even for an F-150 extended cab 4x4. We had read Calgary has some of the most expensive parking in North America, not true in Ramsay and Inglewood.
It's sad that many Calgarians are not aware of what they have at their doorstep and do not take the time to find out. Get out and explore! Urban tourists and especially those from Calgary need to add CALGARY to their bucket list.
Saskatoon Urban Trekker