Florence BFFs: Best Flaneur Finds

Florence with its 10+ million visitors annually is full of touristy places to shop, eat and people watch. You really have to dig deep to find the “real” Florence.  As avid flaneurs, we are always on the lookout for locals who have a hipster, modern, funky or designer look about them, as they are good bets for having the best insights into the city’s true culture. 

Once you have sussed out such people, good questions to ask them beyond the usual “Where is a good place to eat or shop? “are:

  •  Is there a design or galley district in your city.
  • Are there any retro, second-hand, antique or used bookstores nearby?
  • Where do the locals like to hang out?” 

After 10 days of flaneuring in Florence, we found three streets that offer a more authentic Florence experience – Niccolo, Pinti and Macci.  Yes, there are still lots of tourist traps on these streets, but there are also great local hot spots.

Borgo Pinti District (from Via Egidio to Via dei Pilastri)

Even though this street was just a block away from where we were living, it took us a couple of days to find it.  As there are no cars, it is a popular pedestrian and cyclist route into the core from the edge of the City Centre.

Here you will find several upscale shops (from kids to high fashion), bakery and restaurants catering to locals and off-the-beaten path tourists.  We loved the three vintage/retro boutiques – Mrs. Macis (#38), SOqquadro (#13), Abiti Usati & Vintage (#24) and a funky hat and jewelry shop, Jesei che Volano (#33).  Note the numbers in brackets are the street numbers, but Florence has a strange way of numbering homes and shops with different coloured numbers; even by the end we were not sure we had figured it out.  

The big flaneur find on Pinti was FLY (Fashion Loves You), which looks like a high-end fashion store, but is in fact a boutique run by students from the fashion department of the Florence University of the Arts. FLY has very trendy, well-made designer purses, jewelry and clothing created by the students.  It also has some of the friendliest and knowledgeable staff we have ever encountered.  We were immediately given information about other places to check out including their cooking school/restaurant on Via de Macci (more below).

 

  This wall of scarves at FLY had the feel of contemporary art exhibition. 

This wall of scarves at FLY had the feel of contemporary art exhibition. 

  Mrs Macis is a colourful, playful vintage shop. 

Mrs Macis is a colourful, playful vintage shop. 

Jesei che Volano is dominated by wall of hats on fish head hooks.

Niccolo District

On the other side of the Arno River, away from the main tourist traps, is an up and coming area anchored by Via di Niccolo, at the base of the hill to the Plazzale Michelangelo.  Already home to several good restaurants and artisan studios, and lots of construction, it might be too late to call this a hidden gem, but it is definitely worth checking out.

Vivaldi Cioccolateri (Via dei Renai, 15r) has a “North American meets Florence” atmosphere. The high-ceiling back room salon with an eclectic assortment of big comfy antique chairs and couches and classic music oozes relaxation. I had perhaps one of the best chocolate desserts I have had here - an unbaked chocolate torte, garnished with thin chocolate leaves.  Though we didn’t taste the gelato, it sure looked good!  And, while sitting enjoying your coffee and dessert, you can also enjoy some voyeuristic fun as the pastry chef’s kitchen is in the loft space above the salon.

If you are into luxury and love shoes, a visit to the Stefano Bemer studio is a must.  Here they make custom shoes from scratch and promise a perfect fit for both of your feet (few people have both feet the same size or shape). The front of the shop is both a showroom and workshop where you can see young artisans at work and view some of their samples (mostly men’s shoes, but some women’s flats). Don’t expect to walk away with new shoes; there is a six-month waiting list. Rumor has it Salvatore Ferragamo’s son buys his shoes here. Note: Be prepared to shell out 3,000 euros of a new pair of shoes, but this also includes the one time molds.

We were amazed at how friendly all the artists in this district are. Don’t hesitate to go in and chat. They all speak some English, were happy to talk about their art and often had interesting tips on what to see and do in the area. 

Stefano Bemer's wall of foot moulds each with the names of the owner created a visual delight.

Vivaldi Cioccolateri's cozy back room oasis. 

  CLET is a Florence street artist who creates these fun street signs around the city, especially in the Niccolo District where he has his studio. 

CLET is a Florence street artist who creates these fun street signs around the city, especially in the Niccolo District where he has his studio. 

  Collage of CLET signs.

Collage of CLET signs.

Via de Macci District

We found this street after checking out the area’s Ghilberti Market. Here you will find interesting artisan shops like Ad’a’s Studio (#46) with a great selection of knitted and crocheted handbags, hats, mitts and scarfs made right on site.

Brenda loved the L’Aurora Onlus charity (thrift) shop (#11) located in the decommissioned San Francesco al Tempio hospital, church and convent complex built in 1335 (open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday). Part of the church space has been converted into the most amazing thrift store space we have ever encountered, with its intact cathedral ceilings with their religious paintings on them.  Unfortunately, the lighting is poor so you might have to use the flashlight on your phone to look at things. And the fitting room is a tiny, back storage room with poor light and no mirror. Brenda says, “it is like shopping in the twilight zone!”

At the I Mosaici di Lastrucci (#9) workshop and gallery, you can watch amazing artisans painstakingly create amazing realistic mosaic artworks from very thin slices of different coloured rocks.  The art of natural stone inlaid work dates back to 15th century Florence. This is truly is a walk back in time, when everything was handmade by local artisans.

Danda Necioni’s (#27) is an etching and map shop that is literally jam packed with historic works – a great source for a unique souvenir from Italy. All of the works come with documented authentication, making them real collector items.

Based on the hot tip from the staff at FLY, we lunched at GANZO (#85), the restaurant owned by the Florence University of the Arts and run by students.  If you are looking for a break from dark spaces and ancient architecture, its bright white walls, contemporary furnishings and large black and white student photography provides respite from the dark and decaying places outside.

The food is “stellar,” says Brenda.  Her tuna steak on polenta cake with autumn pesto had us both wanting more. I loved my pumpkin puree soup with floating candied pumpkin; mint scented ricotta and an olive powder. The desserts were a work of art; mine a pumpkin tartlet and Brenda’s Sorrento lemon, Sicilian orange and tangerine scent mousse on a chocolate cookie base.  Our sweet teeth were happy!

GANZO: pumpkin dessert combined with salted caramel and balanced by the creaminess of goat cheese. Served in a cinnamon-flavoured pastry tartlet. Looks like a work of art to me!

Ad’a’s Studio is a fun place to explore.  Check out the surprise at the back?

Can you believe this is charity/thrift store? 

Other Finds:

We found Trattoria Ciacco after a morning of strolling one of the world’s longest flea market (3+ kilometers) in Le Cascine Park on the far west side of the City Centre. We were hungry. So we crossed the river, as that is where most of the people seemed to be headed and were willing to take more or less the first place we found. Lucky us, it was Ciacco!  The place was full of locals but we were welcomed and took the only table available.  (Note: if you are looking for a good restaurant, we always find the busier they are the better.) Noticing what the couple (our age) next to us ordered, we thought it might be a good idea to do the same (the only Italian menu board wasn’t helpful to two non-Italian speaking tourists).  Again, lucky us, as it was pasta with fresh truffles and it was delectable.

When our lunch arrived, the couple smiled and said “good choice” and we continued chatting getting lots of hot tips, including the name of another good restaurant popular with locals near the Piazza Della Passera called il Magazzino.

The Florence University of the Arts also has a photography school which we visited thinking they would have a public gallery of student works. Wrong! But the staff was extremely friendly and we learned the university offers cooking classes for small groups. There we got two hot tips for restaurants – IL Santo Bevitore and Dilladarno.

 BFF (Best Flaneur Find)

One of the great things about Florence is the vibe of its thousands of young university students.  One of the first things you notice about Florence restaurants is that they cater to the students – many offering discounts.  Every night while roaming the streets and alleys for on our daily gelato fix, we would run into a street where there were dozens of students all eating sandwiches and drinking beer or wine on the street.  After a few nights we realized (yes, sometimes we are slow learners) this must be the place for sandwiches and indeed it was.  If you are ever in Florence you have to check out All’ antico Vinaio located at 65/R Via De’ Neri.

students
All' antico Vinaio

 Last Word

The golden rule of an everyday flaneur is “Look for a local and when you find one, don’t be afraid to ask.”

By Richard White, November 9, 2014

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Tri-Cities: Washington's Big Bang City!

For many, summer is synonymous with road trips. Somewhat contrarians that we are, fall and spring spell roadtripping for us.  Too often when on a road trip, the tendency is to focus on the destination, instead of the journey.  We like to make a habit of stopping at one or two off-the-highway towns and cities every day when travelling. 

One of the highlights of our 8,907 km, six week, USA Fall 2013 road trip was our stay in Pasco, Kennewick and Richland (PKR) aka Washington’s Tri-Cities.  Though not on our list of specific places to visit, we decided to get off the interstate and explore.  The next thing we knew, three days were spent exploring these cities and their surroundings.  We were very lucky fortunate it happened to be was a Friday, Saturday and Sunday (keep reading to find out why).

Where to stay?

As luck would have it, we found the Red Lion Hotel Richland Hanford House conveniently located just off the highway and right on the Columbia River.  Check in was quick and we had a great room with view of the river and the park.  It was an easy walk from there to The Parkway (downtown Richland) with its boutiques, restaurants and even a great cinema. The backyard of the hotel was the mighty Columbia River and its walkway.  There is even the Columbia Point golf course just down the road.

Mornings

Check out the farmers’ market - on Fridays, The Parkway street is closed from 9 am to 1 pm when it transforms into a farmers’ market from early June until the end of October. This popular market attracts thousands of locals and tourists; this year’s opening day attracted a record 5,000 visitors alone. So, get there early. 

Richland's downtown farmers' market

We had never seen golden raspberries before. It was weird as they tasted pretty much the same as the red ones.

Pasco’s Farmers’ Market is more traditional. It’s long, open-air pavilion structure allows vendors to sell right out of their trucks. Located in downtown Pasco, a city with a rich Hispanic culture, the market has an authentic farmers’ atmosphere – everything is definitely fresh from the field.  The market also has a carnival feel with lots of fun, kid activities. Markets here are Wednesday (8 am to 1 pm) and Saturdays (8 am to 12 pm) from early May to late October. While at the market, make sure to take some time to explore its downtown - great windows!

Pasco's Farmers Market consists of two open-air structures. 

We loved window licking in downtown Pasco.  The windows were as good as we have seen in Paris, Chicago or New York City. 

You won't find this in Paris or London. 

The windows were like works of art.

Another morning activity would be to check out Country Mercantile on Crestloch Road in Pasco just north of the airport.  In many ways this family-owned and operated food store it is like a market, offering lots of fresh produce, as well a gourmet jellies, sauces, honey and fresh baked goods an amazing selection of handmade fudge and chocolate – even homemade salsa chips, tamales and enchiladas There is also a deli bistro area for lunch if you so choose.  Country Mercantile would be good to combine with Pasco Farmer’s Market, especially for foodies. If you are travelling with kids this is definitely a place to go at they have mazes, rides and other family activities. 

  Country Mercantile store.

Country Mercantile store.

  Candy apples anyone?

Candy apples anyone?

  Hay bale maze

Hay bale maze

Vintage children rides.

One of the things locals love to do in the morning (before it gets too hot) is to hike up Badger Mountain.  Water sports are also popular in the morning as you can beat the crowds. Hiking and biking trails are everywhere, in Chamna National Preserve there is the Amon Basin, Tapteal Bend and Tapteal Trail.  There is also the Sacagawea Heritage Tail - a 23 mile paved waterfront trail system that links all three cities. 

A good website to check for outdoor activities and organized tours is The Reach where you will find things like “Hops to Bottle”, “Farm to Table” and Jet Boat History tours of the Columbia River. 

Sacagawea Heritage Trail just behind the Red Lion Hotel Richland Hanford House. Note the tourists enjoying the swinging bench that allow you to watch people along the trail and the river. 

While walking along the trail we heard some music so we wandered towards it and found a Saturday afternoon "sock hop" at a fun 50s style diner. Very cool!

Afternoons

An obvious “must do” is the Red Mountain Wine tour. Do your own tour or book an organized tour and let someone else do the driving.  Red Mountain is one of the smallest American Viticultural Areas (AVA) at only 4,040 acres, yet it offers 24 different wineries for touring and tasting.  It has a very distinctive climate with very warm days, but cool evenings (due to the sharp bend in the Yakima River and the shadows of the Red Mountain). It is well known for growing some of the best Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes not only in Washington, but in the entire USA.  More information can be found at www.redmountainava.com

If you are really into wines, we recommend staying on the mountain. There are several options but our recommendation would be one of the two cottages at Tapteil Vineyard Winery.

Entrance to the lovely Terra Blanca Winery & Estate Vineyard at Red Mountain. 

Terra Blanca's underground storage. 

Terra Blanca's million dollar view.

This is the patio at the Tapteil Vineyard Winery with one of the cottages below that you can rent.  

If you don’t have time to drive out to Red Mountain, Tulip Lane in Kennewick offers a great alternative with its three lovely wineries –Tagaris, Barnard Griffin and Bookwalter.  Spend a lovely afternoon wandering the vineyards and tasting the wines.  We did and it truly was lovely.

The ceiling of the Barnard Griffin Winery is decorate with this colourful and playful ameba-like clouds.  On Saturday nights you can enjoy the wine and live music. 

The Uptown Plaza, in Richland is a hidden gem; you won’t read about this in any tourist information.  A retro ‘60s outdoor shopping plaza, it has been reborn as an antique/vintage mall. For any “treasure hunter,” this is the place to go for a half-day of browsing heaven. Caution: don’t go in the morning as some of the shops don’t open until later in the day.

Uptown Plaza's vintage signage with the atomic particles on top. Everything is about the atom.

Becky's is just one of several second hand stores that sell everything including the kitchen sink. 

Brenda is going in....

The Uptown Plaza is also home to Desserts by Kelly

The Atomic Bombe Cake is to die for...literally!

A trip to the Tri-Cities wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Hanford Site, a decommissioned nuclear production site just outside Richland.   Established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project, it is the site of the first, full-scale plutonium production reactor and is where the plutonium was made for the atomic bomb that detonated over Nagasaki, Japan in 1945.

This September the B Reactor celebrates it's 70th birthday. Information on celebration programs will be posted at http://www.ourhanfordhistory.org/

Tours of the B Reactor are available on specific days throughout the summer.  Check the website http://manhattanprojectbreactor.hanford.gov/ beforehand. (Note: All tour participants must be 12 years of age to participate and if under 18, a parent/guardian must sign a release form).

The Hanford site is also home to other centres for scientific research including the LIGO Hanford Observatory where they are trying to observe gravitational waves of cosmic origin that were first predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity.  If you have a budding Sheldon (Big Bang Theory) in your family, this is a “must do.” We did and my head is still spinning with talk of neutron stars, black holes, cosmic gravitational waves, ultra high vacuum systems and interferometers.  Unfortunately, public tours happen only on the second Saturday and fourth Friday of the month, so you plan your visit carefully – we were just lucky.

I am not even going to try to explain what this is. On the LIGO tour I thought I understood what they were trying to do, but afterwards my understanding just evaporated.  This is stuff for the Big Bang Theory boys!

Inside the LiGO laboratory.

Just a little computer capacity. 

It is like something from a science fiction movie.

Evenings & Eats

We’d suggest that you plan for long leisurely dinners as part of your Tri-City visit.  Our best find for fine dining was at the JBistro at the Bookwalter Winery along Tulip Lane. Offering both indoor and outdoor dining, the atmosphere can be both, casual or romantic (especially by the fire pits) and there is live music Wednesday to Saturday. The signature dish is their Wagyu ribeye, served with the Truffle set (truffle butter, black truffle salt and white truffle oil) for dipping.  If the Copper River salmon is on the menu it will be a mouthwatering choice and the Crème Brulee satisfied even my “sweet tooth.”

Cheese Louise is a great lunch spot along The Parkway in Richland. I loved my grilled Apple & Brie Panini and Brenda couldn’t stop raving about her Cranberry Bleu Salad. This is also a great place to create your own gourmet picnic lunch with a good selection of cheeses, breads, seasonal fruit and vegetables, as well as drinks.  The staff (aka cheese mongrels) are happy to help create your custom picnic.

Cheese Louise 

Spudnut (you gotta love the name) is the “must do” place for breakfast or lunch.  This 60-year old donut shop with a difference (donuts are made with potato flower) is located in the Uptown Plaza so go for a donut brunch and then browse the shops in the early afternoon.  Don’t be surprised if you have to share your table with a huge tray of donuts either!

How many donuts would you like sir?

Atomic Ale Brewpub & Eatery offers a great family ambience, complete with a selection of board games.  We went on a Sunday night and it was great people- watching fun.  The food and brews were great with wood-fired pizzas, an Atomic Giant Soft Pretzel in the symbol of an atom with orbiting electrons, Atomic Ale’D Red Potato soup and B-Reactor Brownie caught our eye and didn’t disappoint.

Atomic Ale Brewpub & Eatery offers some unique beers.

Even the pretzels reference the atomic age.

Frost Me Sweet is a quaint bistro in Richland best known best for its cupcakes but has a good and varied menu. The people-watching here is spectacular too.

Last Word:

If you love wine, food and are into the Big Bang Theory TV show like we are, Washington’s Tri-Cities is a must place to visit.  For more info go to Visit Tri-Cities.

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Calgary Postcards: Things to see & do

By Richard White, June 30, 2014

Summer is Calgary’s busiest tourist season. It is when family and friends love to come to Calgary, not only for the 10 days of Stampede, but for all of July and August. However for most Calgarians’ the top-of-mind place to take visitors is to Banff and the mountains. I would like to change that!

I thought it would be fun to put together a blog of postcards reflecting the many things to see and do in Calgary with tourist this summer and anytime. 

I have tried to find “everyday” things to see and do, not just the obvious attractions – Glenbow, Calgary Tower, Heritage Park, Zoo, Science Centre, Calaway Park, Chinook Centre or IKEA (now that Winnipeg has its own IKEA, you are going to have to find someplace else to take visiting Winnipeggers).

I have tried to identify “off the grid” uniquely Calgary spots versus obvious touristy things.  I have also tried to identify a diversity of things to see and do that will appeal to a variety of interests. And, most of the things are FREE!

I hope these “everyday tourists” postcards from Calgary will be a catalyst for Calgarians to spend more time exploring Calgary with their visiting family and friends this summer, or anytime of the year for that matter.

Calgary's downtown is home to the world's most extensive elevated indoor walkway system - the +15. The name comes from the fact the bridges are 15 feet off the ground.  Over 60 bridges, connect over 100 buildings to create a 20 km walkway.  Unfortunately it is a bit like a maze and it is not contiguous, but it is a unique and fun way to explore the downtown especially for kids. Along the way amongst other things you can find a bush plane hanging from the ceiling in the lobby of one office building and the skeleton of a bison in another. Download +15 Map

Calgary has several great pedestrian districts - Kensington, Inglewood, 4th Street and 17th Avenue. This is the little "no name" plaza on 10th street where buskers are entertaining people passing by - it is always animated and didn't cost a half million dollars to create.   These streets are great places to do some local shopping, sample some of Calgary's great cuisine scene or one of our craft beers.  All of these streets have great patios for relaxing and people watching. 

  This is  Canada's Sports Hall of Fame  at Canada Olympic Park.  For anyone who is interested in sports this is a must see - lots of hands-on activities.  While you are there, you should wander around perhaps bring your bikes and do some mountain biking or one of the other activities available.  Did you know Calgary is also home to Canada's second largest  military museum ?  It is also worth a visit, I have never heard of anyone who was disappointed.  

This is Canada's Sports Hall of Fame at Canada Olympic Park.  For anyone who is interested in sports this is a must see - lots of hands-on activities.  While you are there, you should wander around perhaps bring your bikes and do some mountain biking or one of the other activities available.  Did you know Calgary is also home to Canada's second largest military museum?  It is also worth a visit, I have never heard of anyone who was disappointed.  

Calgary's Power Hour happens Monday to Friday on nice sunny days when over ten thousand downtown workers head out for a power walk along Stephen Avenue at lunch hour.  This phenomena is something visitors will enjoy seeing and participating in, it is a people watching extravaganza. (photo courtesy of Jeff Trost)

Calgary has one of the world's largest urban pathway system - over 750 km.  While you are walking, running or biking along the north side of the Bow River at the Louise (10th St) bridge you should consider stopping and checking out the new Poppy Plaza - Calgary's newest monument to Canada's war and peace keeping efforts. 

Who needs to go to the mountains when Calgary has over 5,000 parks including two of the largest urban parks in the world - Fish Creek Park and Nose Hill.  This is Edworthy Park home to the Douglas Fir Trail - perhaps Calgary's quintessential trail.

Floating down one of Calgary's two rivers is a great way to spend a summer day with visiting family and friends. You could even try your hand a fly fishing as the Bow River is one of the best fly fishing rivers in the world. 

This is just one of hundreds of public artworks in and around Calgary's downtown.  You could easily spend a day wandering the streets, parks, plazas and gardens to see how many you can find. Hint: There are still several of the fun cow sculptures on the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade.  You can also download the City of Calgary's public art tour. FYI...this piece is titled "Ascension" and was made by INCIPIO MONDO and is located in a mini-park at the southwest corner of 4th Ave and 9th St. SW. Download Public Art Tour  

Calgary has many historical buildings and districts in the inner-city, from the majestic early 20th century sandstone schools to old city hall. Stephen Avenue (8th Street SW) from Centre St to 4th St. SW is a National Historic District and Inglewood has a heritage Main Street.  If you have a history buff visiting you will want to be sure to take them to our two historical districts, along with maybe Fort Calgary, Glenbow and Heritage Park.  A great resource to have  is "Historical Walks of Calgary" by Harry M. Sanders, it offers 10 different self-guided tours of Calgary historical communities in and around the downtown. Or print off the City of Calgary's self-guided tour of Stephen Avenue and you are all set for a half-day of exploring. (Photo credit: George Webber, one of Canada's most respected photographers). 

Central High School (photo credit: George Webber)

When in Calgary, eat like locals do?  Chicken on the Way and Peter's Drive-In are two of Calgary's iconic eateries. Click here for:  Top Ten Places to eat like a local?

Explore your own neighbourhood, on foot or on bike - you might be surprised what you will find. We love to take visitors to our favourite local spots like this musical fence. 

Calgary has a great cafe culture. Caffe Rosso located in interesting places like the Old Dominion Steel site in Ramsay is just one of the many independent cafes. Learn more: Calgary's cafe scene.

Riding the train can be a fun and an inexpensive way to spend a day, especially with young children. You can buy a day pass and hope off and on as much as you like.  You can combine a train trip with exploring downtown, or perhaps a trip to the Zoo or the Science Centre - both are easily accessible by the train. 

This is the Sunalta LRT station just outside of downtown, from this station you could walk to Mikey's Juke Joint for their famous Saturday Afternoon Jam or to Heritage Posters & Music to browse their  wonderful collection of posters, records and music memorabilia. 

Calgary has a festival pretty much every weekend through out the summer, including Global Fest fireworks completion in lovely Elliston Park, August 14 to 15, 2014. 

  If your visitors are into music you might want to suggest one of Calgary's live music venues.  You can catch Tim Williams, winner of the 2014 International Blues Competition (solo/duo) and best guitarist for free on most Tuesday evenings at Mikey's Juke Joint or on Saturday when he hosts an afternoon jam at the Blues Can in Inglewood. There are live music venues throughout the city.  Best place to find out what is happening and where is to get the  Swerve Magazine  in the Calgary Herald every Friday. 

If your visitors are into music you might want to suggest one of Calgary's live music venues.  You can catch Tim Williams, winner of the 2014 International Blues Competition (solo/duo) and best guitarist for free on most Tuesday evenings at Mikey's Juke Joint or on Saturday when he hosts an afternoon jam at the Blues Can in Inglewood. There are live music venues throughout the city.  Best place to find out what is happening and where is to get the Swerve Magazine in the Calgary Herald every Friday. 

If your visitors are into history or reading, bookstore browsing is a fun activity.  Calgary is home to one of the Canada's most unique bookstore - Aquila.  Located at 826 - 16h Avenue, right on the TransCanada Highway it specializes in polar expeditions, Western Canadiana and Canadian Pacific Railway. Yes those are two authentic Inuit kayaks hanging from the ceiling. 

Pages in Kensington is also a great bookstore with lots of readings and FairsFair is a great used bookstore and has several locations. 

If you really want to show your visitors you are "hip" and "tin he know" you might want to take them to Salvage in Ramsay, just down the road from Cafe Rosso and not very far from the Crown Surplus and Ribtor in Inglewood. You could easily spend a day pretending  you are on the set of Canadian or American Pickers TV show. Anyone into retro or vintage artifacts or antiquing or thrifting would love these places. 

Footnotes:

If you are interested in walking tours the City of Calgary’s website has several, including cemetery tours.  You can also pic up David Peyto’s Walking tour books or the iconic "Historical Walks of Calgary" by Harry M. Sanders.  You can even book your own private tour with Calgary Walks

I am always interested in new ideas and places to explore, so please send me your suggestions for Calgary Postcards and I will add them to this blog or perhaps create another one.

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Why Mr. Potato Head loves Blackfoot, Idaho?

There is something about being an “everyday tourist” and liking quirky off the beaten path places.  Last fall, on our road trip through Montana, Idaho and Washington, we unearthed (pun intended) Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot, Idaho.

Located in the former Oregon Short Line Railroad Depot (130NW Main Street), the museum is as unpretentious as potatoes themselves. No high-tech videos or animated displays here; this is a down-to-earth museum (again pun intended) that you would expect in a small farm town.  But we weren’t – nor should you be – there is something intrinsically charming about its simplicity.

The price is right - $3 for adults, $1 for youth 6 to 12 years old and free for kids 5 and under.  Plan to spend about 45 minutes to an hour watching the films, looking at the displays and reading the interesting storyboards.  Perhaps the museum’s biggest claims to fame are that it has the largest potato crisp ever made by Pringles, as well the original potato planted in Idaho.  

This planter was used from the last 1800s to the early 1900s. 

The Pugh Potato diggers commonly used four horses to pull it.  The chain shook the dirt out to allow the picker to access the potatoes.  Later diggers turned the chain upside down to avoid bruising the potatoes. Chains today are rubberized to avoid bruising even more  Potatoes grow as far as 8 to 10 inches deep. 

Idaho Potato History 101 (source: Idaho Potato Museum website)

Rev. Henry Spalding planted the first potatoes grown in Lewiston in 1836. It was a successful crop, but his missionary work was brought to an end by the Whitman massacre (1847) and the Spaldings were forced to leave in 1850.

Later in the 19th century, Utah pioneers were sent northward to settle other areas, one of which was Cache Valley. Thinking they were still in Utah, they were unaware they had actually crossed the border into the Idaho Territory and began to establish their farms there.

One of these early settlers in Franklin was William “Goforth” Nelson. He recorded, in the summer of 1860, “We all camped in our wagons the first summer, but we all got homes built by winter; these houses were built in the present meetinghouse lot in a fort. I spent the summer working on ditches, canton roads, and hauling poles and wood from the canyon. I raised thirty-three bushels of potatoes, which is all that was raised in Franklin that summer except for a few onions.”

This is the first recorded planting of potatoes in Idaho in an area where the settlers remained and the crop is still grown to some extent today.

The spread of potato agriculture to eastern Idaho was only a matter of time. Henry E. Jenkins was a freighter hauling a load of potatoes from Farmington, Utah, to Blackfoot, Idaho. The recipient of the shipment was Judge Stephens, who was encouraged by the freighter to plant the potatoes, which were believed to be the first planting in the Blackfoot area.

The Blackfoot area quickly became one of the principal potato producing areas in Idaho. Those first Idaho settlers were pioneers mentally as well as geographically as they had the initiative and willingness to better their conditions regardless of physical hardships and uncertain futures. In the river valleys, where water was easily diverted, and with the rich volcanic-ash soil, these hearty people raised a more potatoes than they needed and discovered the extra potatoes were a good cash crop. From this small beginning, Idaho’s farmers set out on the conquest of the potato markets of the United States.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s potato crop estimates for the state of Idaho were first made in 1882, at which time they recorded 2,000 acres harvested, with a total of value of $250,000. In 1904, there were 17,000 acres harvested for $1,328,000.  Eleven years later, in 1915 more than three million dollars was realized from 33,000 acres. Production grew to 16,146,000 hundredweight by 1930 and Idaho potatoes, by then, were gaining their national reputation for baking quality and the higher grading standards of Idaho shippers. Today, 320,000 acres produce approximately 12 billion pounds of potatoes worth almost one billion dollars.

 

This could well be my favourite poster of 2013.

We both enjoyed the names and graphics of the potato sacks. 

Russet Burbank

The famous Idaho potato, the Russet Burbank, is known as being large, white and delicious. It was developed by Luther Burbank, beginning in 1872 when he planted twenty-three seeds from an Early Rose parent plant. All produced tubers, but one was superior in yield and size. Originally smooth-skinned, the familiar netting is actually a mutant of the Burbank and it is more resistant to blight than the original.

The University of Idaho Research Experiment Station in Aberdeen has provided valuable service in helping the potato industry. First started in 1914, experiments have been carried out concerning optimum distance between rows and plants, seed piece sizes, planting and harvesting equipment, storage facilities, diseases, irrigation practices, and research for new varieties.

These planter shoes were invented and donated by Masa Tsukamoto. The shoes are designed to lift the dry loose soil up and out of the groove it cuts without compacting the soil. The seed piece is deposited into the moist soil ready to sprout and set out new potatoes in a favorable seed bed. 

The Spudnik Loader loaded potatoes from the potato cellar into bulk potato trucks rather than sacks. A potato fork was used to prior to this time to remove potatoes from the pile of potatoes in the cellar.  The loader represents a major step in the efficient loading  and transporting of potatoes. 

Wall of potato masher makes for quirky wall display. 

Yes the museum has a collection of Mr. Potato Heads. 

Fun Facts

  • The potato is 99.9% fat free, yet a nutrient-dense food having more potassium than a banana.
  • Potato chips are the most common snack food in the world – billions of bags are consumed each year.
  • The sweet potato is only a distant relative of the potato. They are a great source of vitamin A, by the way.
  • Pringles are made from mashed potatoes that have been dehydrated and reconstituted into dough and then formed into chips.
  • August 19, 2014 is National Potato Day in USA.
  • The world’s largest potato weighed in at 8 pounds 4 ounces.
  • Mr. Potato Head, the kids toy, was born May 1, 1952.
  • China is the world’s leading producer of potatoes. 

The world's largest potato!

Last Word

There are actually several potato museums around the world - three in Germany, one in Denmark and one in Albuquerque.  Canada’s Prince Edward Island in the town of O’Leary claims to have the world’s largest collection of potato related artifacts. So if you find yourself on Interstate 15 near Blackfoot, Idaho definitely worth the stop is the Idaho Potato Museum.

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Ramsay: Calgary's FFQ Industrial District

By Richard White, February 16, 2014

Just when you thought Ramsay couldn’t get more funky, it did!  Just this past week “Passage,” a quirky new contemporary art gallery opened. 

While still lamenting the loss of Dennis Oppenheim’s upside down church “Device to Root out Evil,” I am excited by the creation of a new FFQ (fun, funky and quirky) art gallery space in the Dominion Bridge building on 24th Avenue S.E. 

The space is a narrow (20 feet at most?) “passage way,” part outdoor and part indoors, making for a very dramatic and inviting entrance to the offices that call the Dominion Bridge site home. 

The current exhibition, “IN DUST: REAL” which opened February 13, 2014 and is curated (this is not just a lets hang some art and call it a gallery project) by Colleen Sharpe a former Glenbow art curator features works by Aran McCormick and Joanne MacDonald.  I love the way the exhibition reflects the space with numerous references to industrial artifacts. 

Unfortunately "Device to Root out Evil" has been removed from the Dominion Bridge site.  It was my favourite piece of public art in the city. 

This was the entrance to "Passage" on the opening night.  How cool is this? Reminded me of the orbs that floated down the Bow River at night a few years back. 

Joanne MacDonald's welded steel sculpture "Community" sets the tone for the exhibition with its fun dancing snowman-like stature. I love the interplay of the object and the shadow, which is another repeated element in the exhibition. 

Aran McCormick's collage/still life with  bucket, rope and wire has a lovely whimsy that appealed to both Brenda and I.  

This is close up of Joanne MacDonald's "Suspended Element 26" also has a sense of playfulness that you wouldn't expect from industrial elements. There is a "nesting" element to the piece that I found intriguing. 

Aran McCormick's "Suspension III" is indeed an old wooden ladder suspended from the wall with a bucket on the end and paint on the floor.  The pop of colour on the floor foreshadows the next piece in the exhibition. 

At the back of the gallery were McCormick's colourful "Fly Wheel Series" digital art on vinyl. 

This is the back door, which provides a context for linking the site's industrial sense of place with the art in the exhibition. 

DIY Fun

But Passage is not the only radical thing to happen to Ramsay recently.  Have you heard of or been to Salvage? It is located at the east end of 24th Avenue just down the road from Passage. You go past the Burns Visual Arts Society (named after the Burns building in downtown Calgary where the society was first formed) veer left into the junkyard and there you will discover a huge warehouse full of FFQ things to look at, or purchase.  It is like a scene out of Canadian Pickers.

Calgary interior designer Alykhan Velji along with Kelly Kask owner of Reclaimed Trading Company have a passion for salvaging and reclaiming materials from “off the beaten path” sources - cedar doors from Calgary’s old courthouse, old growth fir from a cannery in BC to name a few. 

They, along with their colleagues, then either rework them into home décor items or make them available to artists and scavengers to work their magic. Never before has the old adage “one person’s junk is another’s treasure” rang so true. 

Last spring, while in Portland, we fell in love with the “The Good Mod” and its amazing collection of reclaimed industrial products.  Our immediate reaction was “Why can’t Calgary have a place like this?”  Now we do! 

The entrance to Salvage is just a hint of what it is to come.

The wall of chairs was impressive. 

The Good Mod in Portland had a wonderful whimsy about it especially in how they displayed their chairs. 

Just one of the FFQ objects that had been created out of various salvaged objects. 

This bench would look good on our deck! 

How cool are these?

This is Salvage as you walk in or look back. 

Calgary’s Industrial District

While Beltline, Bridgeland, East Village, Inglewood and Kensington seem to get all the media’s attention as Calgary’s hipster communities, Ramsay is just quietly evolving into Calgary’s funky and quirky industrial district.

Caffé Rosso has, for a long time, been the funky foodie hangout in Ramsay. However, it now has competition with the opening of Red’s in Ramsay at 1101 8th Street SE.  

If New Urban Developments (Dan Van Leeuwen, President and CEO founded New Urban in 2008 as real estate development firm focused on inner city urban revitalization projects) can pull off the transformation of the 11-acre Dominion Bridge site into an industrial village (needs to retain a unique sense of place and design that “shouts out “industrial, not just another bunch of generic condos that look like they could be anywhere) for artists and artist wannabees, Ramsay could be the “sleeper” in Calgary’s quest to become a hipster haven.

In the 20th century the creative types converted warehouse streets into hip new communities. It looks like in the 21st century the "creative class" which includes developers is discovering old industrial sites and bringing them back to life. 

I encourage you to grab a coffee at Caffé Rosso and take a walk around Ramsay; it is a very interesting place to explore for anyone interesting in Calgary's history and our sense of place, or in treasure hunting and flaneuring. 

I encourage everyone to be an everyday tourist in your city or town. Get out and walk a different neighbourhood with the curiosity of a tourist. 

Caffe Rosso has the "industrial" sense of place that needs to be retained in any new development of the site.  I am thinking the steel tower could be converted into a signature artwork for the site.  Perhaps we also need to preserve the above ground telephone and utility poles as part of the authenticity factor.  

Old metal drums lids have been transformed into FFQ artwork at Red's in Ramsay. 

Sam Hester has been adopted by Red's as their local artist, commissioning artworks for both locations.  Hester's fun and colourful visual stories makes for a fun and quirky entrance at Red's in Ramsay. 

The Ramsay community celebrates its industrial sense of place which includes the railway the runs through it. This image in on Red's window is an example of how the community continues to showcase its history in fun ways. 

Best Canadiana pub is located where?

By Richard White, January 31, 2014

You would think Toronto, Montreal or Ottawa would have the best Canadiana Pub in the world, maybe even St. John’s or Halifax.  But no, it may well be in one of the most unlikely places - Memphis, Tennessee.  

Yes across the street from the iconic Peabody Hotel (famous for their resident ducks who spend the day in the lobby fountain) is Kooky Canuck.  We were introduced to this Canadian gem when attending the Polar Bar Jam, part of the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge, January 21 to 25, 2014. 

Polar Bear Jam

The place was packed (I don’t think they have fire code laws in Memphis, it is amazing how many people they can pack into their bars) for the Polar Bear Jam – it was like a Maritime kitchen party, with Canadians from across the country partying up a storm and it was only 11 a.m.

As soon as we arrived, a beer was handed to us. It wasn’t just any beer; it was a Don De Dieu (the name of Samuel de Champlain’s ship, which translates in English to “gift of god”) from Chambly, Quebec’s Unibroue brewery.  Our Western Canadian travel companions thought it was too sweet, which meant more for us given the first 200 people got a free beer.  The wait staff were warning patrons it had more alcohol than American beer, but nobody told them it was 9%, times the light beer alcohol served up in the 34 oz. jumbo mugs.

The Décor

But I digress.  What makes the Kooky Canuck a great Canadian pub is the décor.  When you walk in, you are immediately confronted by a long log cabin-like wall where not one, not two, not three, but a series of mounted horned animal heads including buffalo, elk, caribou, deer and a bighorn ram– I couldn’t identify them all.  I think the only thing missing was a musk ox.

Down the middle of the room is what everyone referred to as “the forest”. In reality, it was a jail-like wall of birch tree limbs that created a nice separation between the bar and restaurant. The back room truly was like a log cabin with more mounted animals, birds and fish including an iconic Canada Goose. Overall, the décor oozed of Canada’s great outdoors.

The feature wall of mounted animal heads is impressive.

What would a Canadian pub be without an Canada Goose. 

A forest of birch tree limbs separating the bar from the dining room. 

The Logo / The Characters 

The logo is a cartoon of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police like officer carrying a large burger with the words “Big Food! Big Fun!” underneath.  You can’t get much more Canadian than the RCMP. The addition of the beard or is it a goatee makes it even more hip. 

Kooky Canuck attracts at wonderful cast of characters from across Canada and beyond.  It is a great people watching place.

Love at first sight?

This guy is wearing what was referred to by many as the Maritime Tuxedo! 

Kooky Canuck owner Shawn Danko welcomes everyone to the Polar Bear Jam.

The BIG beer guy just couldn't stop smiling. He wasn't alone!

I gotta get me one of these t-shirts.

The Challenge

Kooky Canuck is also infamous for its Kookamonga (sounds Australian to me) Challenge.  The challenge is to eat the Kookamonga burger in less than 60 minutes. 

What is a Kookamonga burger? It is four pounds of fresh ground chuck inside a two- pound bun and 1.5 pounds of lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions and cheese. Seven and a half pounds of fun! Fries are optional.   FYI - that is a whopping 12,000

Eat the burger in 60 minutes and it’s free (if you don’t eat it in an hour it is $32.99 US), plus you get your picture in the Hall of Fame.  Eighteen people have eaten the Kookamonga burger all by themselves in the required time, some more than once.  Matt Stoney has the record for fastest consumption - 4 minutes and 45 seconds – how is that possible?  As of December 29, 2013, 3,950 attempts have been made and 18 people have been successful.

Shawn holding up the Kookamonga burger.

Only in Canada eh!

Yes there are larger bars, pubs and lounges that have a Canadian theme.  Yes there are places that serve more types of Canadian beers and better Canadian microbrewery pubs.  Fro me, Canadian cities are filled with too many Irish or English pubs and not enough that celebrate their local sense of place.  Too many of our sports bars are full of American sports memorabilia.  When it comes to capturing Canada’s sense of place I think Kooky Canuck nails it. 

If you find yourself in Memphis, be sure to check out Kooky Canuck and see if you agree that it is best Canadiana pub in the world is not actually in Canada. Only in Canada would you find our signature pub in another country!

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