Museums of Memphis / International Blues Challenge


It is hard to believe that even in 2015, whites in Memphis and the entire Delta area haven’t embraced the blacks for their wonderful spirit and joie de vivre.  Someone told me (I wish I could remember who) many years ago “we must embrace the differences that define us, not let them divide us.”  After attending the IBC, checking out the museums of Memphis, wandering Clarksdale and attending the First Baptist Church service, I say “vive la difference!”

International Blues Challenge

Mike Clark (far right) with some of his new best friends jamming at IBC 2014.

Mike Clark (far right) with some of his new best friends jamming at IBC 2014.

In December 2013, a few of Mikey’s Juke Joint groupies (including myself) decided to head to Memphis for the International Blues Challenge (IBC) to support the Mike Clark Band and Tim Williams, both of who would be representing southern Alberta at the January 2014 competition.  It was a truly amazing experience, not only did Williams win the competition as the best single/solo act and best guitarist, but I developed a whole new appreciation for the history of the blues and the culture of the south that produced it.

This year’s Challenge happens January 20 – 24 with Calgary’s Mike Clark Band and Tim Williams again representing southern Alberta.

The Museums

One of the great things about visiting Memphis is their trio of music museums – Stax Museum, Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum and Sun Records.

The STAX Museum blew both Brenda (not so much a blues or music keener) and I away with its campus that includes not only the museum, but a charter school and extensive collection.  For anyone interested in the history of 20th century music in North America, this is the place to go. You will learn about the evolution and connections between numerous genres of music – blues, soul, jazz, Bebop, country, gospel, hillbilly, R&B, rock and Pop music.  What I particularly loved about the museum is there is its air of authenticity as much of the history actually happened in Memphis or in the immediate area.  

STAX museum is located in an older neighbourhood, with a mix of both new and somewhat seedy buildings.

STAX museum is located in an older neighbourhood, with a mix of both new and somewhat seedy buildings.

The museum starts with a wonderful 20-minute film, after which you wander at your own pace through hundreds of displays that tell the story of the music with lots of memorabilia.  The highlight was when I complemented an elderly, distinguished-looking man on his great tie.  He thanked me and we got chatting about the museum and how he was visiting with his grandchildren who “wanted to see where their grandfather was” in the museum.  Turns out I was talking to Harold “Scotty” Scott of the Temprees, whose gold record for “Dedicated to the one I love” and other band artifacts we on exhibit.

One take away message I got from this museum was how the pain and hardship deeply penetrated the African American culture of the south and how they sought comfort and solace in their music.

I would recommend anyone visiting the museum, also take an explore a few around the museum, it will reinforced the link between poverty, sense of place and blues music.  The predominately black neighbourhood of empty lots, abandon homes, homes with what looked like religious shrines on the porches and numerous churches looked like many of the images we saw in the museum.

In chatting with Andrew Mosker, CEO, National Music Centre (NMC), who is currently construction a new museum in Calgary, I was told they would be incorporating some of the lessons learned from STAX on how to engage, entertain and educate the public about music.  Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder if the NMC could match STAX museum’s authenticity as most of NMC’s artifacts will be imported from elsewhere. Also a big shiny new museum located in a glitzy new master planned urban community seems diametrically opposed to places that are the catalyst for artistic creativity. Time will tell.

One of the things that make Memphis' museums great is their authenticity, as they are telling stories that are both local and global. 

One of the things that make Memphis' museums great is their authenticity, as they are telling stories that are both local and global. 

Harold "Scotty" Scott. 

Harold "Scotty" Scott. 

The Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, created by the Smithsonian Institute and located downtown next to the arena provides an excellent overview of the history of Memphis area music from the 1930s to the city’s musical heyday of the ‘70s.  The museum’s digital audio guide offers up over 300 minutes of information including 100 songs that you can listen to while surrounded by artifacts of the time.  It is a total music immersion program not to be missed.

Sun Records, located just outside of the downtown, is easily accessible via the tram and a short walk to the historic building. Like the STAX museum, I think you get a better appreciation for the history and the environment that produced the music when you walk the streets around it.

The lobby of Sun Studio looks like a '50s diner.

What is great and unique about Sun Records is that you get a personal tour led by a local musician.  Sun Records, an American independent record label was founded in Memphis in 1952, by Sam Phillips and financed by Jim Bulliet.  It was here that Phillips discovered and first recorded Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. Phillips loved the music of African-Americans and wanted to bring that genre to a mass audience, which changed the world of music, but meant Sun Records struggled to be viable. 

The museum is full of artifacts and your tour guide has amazing stories to tell.  But the highlight of the tour is to stand on in the recording studio where Elvis, Carl, Jerry Lee and Johnny belted out your favourite songs. The building just oozes history - I am sure I heard Roy singing.

The modest entrance to Sun Studio.

One of  the many artifacts from the early days of Sun Studio.

The recording studio is still used today. It looks like a rec room from the '50s. It is hard to imagine that this is place where the legends of '50s and '60s music created their hits here.

Beale Street

Beale Street, truly one of North America’s iconic streets, is home to the International Blues Competition (IBC). The event utilizes 17 different venues along the street for the 250+ entries from around the world.  The street is hopping with music from noon to the wee hours of the morning. 

For me, the highlight of the Challenge were the midnight jams at the Daisy Theatre (every night various musicians from the competition and past winners put on an impromptu concert, the energy was electrifying).   There are certain art experiences that stand out in my life - seeing Baryshnikov dance from the front row of the Lincoln Centre (1984) and the Hermitage Show at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (1977) - and the IBC jams on Beale Street.

Beale Street is animated by buskers and bands who provide great street entertainment. 

Beale Street is animated by buskers and bands who provide great street entertainment. 

The International Blues Challenge midnight jam. 

The International Blues Challenge midnight jam. 


No trip to Memphis for a blues lover is complete without a road trip to Clarksdale, Mississippi (90 minute drive), considered by some as “ground zero” for the blues. The entire city is a living museum complete with numerous historical plaques and a self-guided map. 

Clarksdale is home to the crossroads of highways 61 and 49 where legend has it iconic blues guitarist Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil.   You can also visit the McKinley Morganfield’s (aka Muddy Waters) cabin on Stovall Road. There are lots of tiny cabins still inhabited that serve as a reminder of the poverty that begat the blues.  

When in Clarksdale check out The Delta Blues Museum, WROX radio station on Main Street and all of the other historic sites around town, it will give you a whole new appreciation of how the blues was germinated.

Ground Zero Blues Club opened in 2001 in an old warehouse building with “manufactured authenticity” complements of an old couch and other bric-a-brac on the porch and the tradition of graffiti-like visitors writing of their names anywhere they can find space. names of people who have been there on the walls.  We arrived mid day (nothing was happening), but we did manage to get on stage and pretend we were performing.

In chatting with Holger Petersen (veteran CBC and CKUA blues broadcaster), after his talk about the history of the blues at NMC a few years back he told me Ground Zero was one of his favourite places to listen to the blues. You could easily spend an afternoon wandering the streets of Clarksdale, checking out the museum, eating dinner and listening to an act Ground Zero and maybe even book yourself a room at the Riverside Hotel, established in 1944, where the the likes of Robert Nighthawk, Sonny Boy Williams and Ike Turner had been guests.

It truly is a sacred place.

Ground Zero Blues Club looks like it was part of Clarksdale's heyday, but in reality it didn't open until 2001. It has established itself as the premier place for blues performers to play when in the area.

Ground Zero Blues Club looks like it was part of Clarksdale's heyday, but in reality it didn't open until 2001. It has established itself as the premier place for blues performers to play when in the area.

Panels like these are located throughout the city, creating an informative self-guided walking tour. 

WROX radio
Clarksdale has numerous music related stores that are fun to explore.  It is a great place to flaneur - you will find everything from the charming Greyhound bus depot to the  Tennessee Williams historic district  of mega-mansions from the early 20th century. Tennessee Williams grew up in Clarksdale.

Clarksdale has numerous music related stores that are fun to explore.  It is a great place to flaneur - you will find everything from the charming Greyhound bus depot to the Tennessee Williams historic district of mega-mansions from the early 20th century. Tennessee Williams grew up in Clarksdale.

Barry (another Mikey's groupie) and I on stage at Ground Zero Blues Club. 

Gospel Revelation

No trip to Memphis is complete without attending a Sunday morning Gospel Church service. While many trek to the well-publicized Al Green church service near Graceland, we were fortunate to notice during our wanderings that at the end of Beale Street is the First Baptist Church (built in 1880, it is believed to be the first brick-constructed, multi-story church built by African Americans).  We like authenticity so this seemed like the perfect choice.

So on Sunday morning, when many IBC revellers were still recovering from their Saturday night festivities, we headed to church.   Wanting to be respectful, we tried toquietly walk in and sit at the back, but that was not to be.  We were immediately welcomed like long lost family, hands were shaken, we were given a program, and by the end hugs were shared and we were part of “the family.”  I have never experienced a more friendly welcoming. 

At the beginning of the service, all-newcomers were welcomed by name and where they were visiting from.  We were asked to stand to be recognized and invited to say a few words. Then amateur singers and preachers started to perform building to a crescendo with a large female choir and professional passionate preacher that made both your body and soul shiver. I don’t think I have ever heard so many AMENs in my life. 

Initially planning to only stay for 30 minutes or so, we were mesmerized we stayed for the entire two-hour service.  We were even invited to join them for lunch afterwards.  It was a magical experience. Amen!


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.

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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Flaneuring Florence's Markets: Flea, Food & Fashion

By Richard White, November 5, 2014

Like most European cities, Florence's city centre has several markets, some are more focused on food, others on fashion and some even have a weekly or monthly flea market.  For example, when visiting Frankfurt, we always try to make sure we are there for their Saturday flea market along the Main River, as it is a great place to shop and people watch. In Florence, you have your choice of several different markets depending on the day of the week. 

Everyday Markets

Mercato Centrale is both and open air and indoor market. The open air area is full of vendors selling everything from socks to trinkets and like most Florence markets a plethora of leather goods.  The ornate two-story Mercato Centrale building was built in 1874, after the Mercato Vecchio was demolished to make way for the Piazza della Repubblicaa few blocks away.  Here you find lots of permanent vendors as well as upscale touristy restaurants and shops.  For those of you familar with Vancouver's Granville Island Market, or Seattle's Pike market there are many similarities.

Piazza Ghilberti Market (food and clothing) is also open everyday and given its location on the east side of the City Centre you get to mix a bit more with the locals than the Mercanto Centrale. It too has an outside stall area that is very animated and an indoor space.  Best to get there early, as it can get quite crowded later in the morning and most of the action is pretty much over by noon or 1 pm.

Specialty Markets

On your way to the Ghilberti Market you might want to stop by the small antique market on the Piazza del Ciompi which operates from Monday to Saturday opening about 10 am the best we can tell.  Seems like the vendors open whenever they like.  The entire piazza looks a bit ramshackled, but there is a good selection of second-hand stores to explore.  

The Flower Market takes place on Thursday morning under the colonnade of the Palace at the Piazza della Republic.  It is not a very large market, probably only a 15 to 20 minute "look see" for most people so combine it with some other activities that day.  It is very colourful and refreshing as Florence's City Centre has very little vegetation. 

On the third sunday of the month at the Piazza Santo Spirito is a craft and food market.  The crafts are very limited, but there are a few things you won't see at other markets, like the lady hand-weaving baskets or the hippy guy making hand-made shoes.  We were told this is where the local foodies shop.   

The third weekend of the month there is also an antique market at the Fortezza de Basso / garden.  Unfortunately, we didn't get there so can't comment on the quality of the experience.

World's Longest Flea Market

Every Tuesday from 7 am to 2 pm you will find the mother of all flea markets in Florence's Le Cascine Park along the Arno River. It is a linear market that goes for over 3 kilometres with vendors on both sides.  It took us almost two hours to do one side and we weren't looking at everything. While some vendors might stay there until 2 pm, we saw some beginning to pack up just after noon. There are a few food vendors, but it is most clothing vendors - not designer knockoffs, but rather mostly new cheap clothing, shoes, accessories, and kitchen products. This is not a "made in Italy" fashionista experience and not a place for vintage treasure hunters.  

That being said there were some treasures to be had if you were prepared to dig in the pile of scarfs. Brenda did manage to find two vintage scarves for 1 euro each and a modern Italian made sweater/coat for 40 euros.  

It was a great walk in the park, a chance to mingle with the locals and people watching. What more could you ask for? 

Postcards: Le Cascine Flea Market

The east entrance to the Le Cascine Park Flea Market is marked by this tear drop road marking. It was a drizzly day when we arrived, but the rain soon stopped and it was a very pleasant walk along the tree-lined market.  The linear market was easy to negotiate as you just go up one side and dow the other. 

Brenda checking out the racks of clothing.

I am looking for something for my sweet tooth.

I am looking for something for my sweet tooth.

Brenda had her eye on this cool dude for awhile. Yes that is his bike.

Brenda had her eye on this cool dude for awhile. Yes that is his bike.

Everyone loves a flea market

Everyone loves a flea market

Brenda spotted with pile of scarves and she was on it like a dog on a bone.

What's a flea market without The roasted chestnuts to enjoy.

What's a flea market without The roasted chestnuts to enjoy.

Postcards from Ghilberti Market 

The Bead Lady was doing a brisk business.

Inside the butcher was fun to watch. 

We loved the fact that people of all ages were enjoying the market.

Postcards from Piazza Ciompi Market 

Don't be put off by the appearance of the shops there are some treasures to be had.  

Postcards from Piazza Santo Spirito

This piazza dates back to 1252 when Augustinian monks built a monastery and church. Today it is a bohemian hang-out with restaurants, cafes and a market. 

We awarded this vendor the top prize for visual presentation. 

Shoe maker. 

Basket weaving. 

These bronze fragments are a war memorial.  German soldiers at the end of WWII conducting public killing of freedom fighters and political opponents in the piazza and streets surrounding it. 

Postcards from Mercanto Centrale


The indoor market is more like a food court in a mall or office building than a farmers' market. 

Looking down from the second floor restaurant you get a better sense that this isn't your quaint local farmer's market.  

Postcards from the Flower Market


The flower market has one of the prettiest spaces of any market I have ever seen.

Florence's flower market adds a burst of colour and plant life that is absent from most of the City Centre. 

Herb vendor

Last Word

One of the things all of Florence's markets have in common is that they are enjoyed by everyone from young children to seniors.  More and more urban planners and designers are cognizant of the 8/80 rule that states; if a place or space is attractive to kids 8 and younger, as well as 80 and older, it will be attractive to everyone in between.  While exploring the markets and streets of Florence, I have seen more seniors hobbling with canes along the busy and bumpy streets, sidewalks and piazzas than I have seen anywhere else in the world.  Kudos to them...I don't know how they do it.  

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Dublin: Iconic barracks makes for great museum

The National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts and History is located in the massive Collins Barracks built in 1702.  Architect Tomas Burgh, who also built the world famous library at Trinity College, designed this early neo-classical building. 

It makes for a perfect museum.  The four floors wrapping around a huge central parade square (the number of paces associated with the marching soldiers still exist on the walls above the colonnade arches) are easily divided up into over 30-flexible gallery spaces that accommodate exhibitions of silver, ceramics, glassware, weaponry, furniture, folklife, clothing, jewelry, coins and medals.  There is also a museum shop and quaint café with some very tempting pastries.

One of the many fascinating fashion exhibits. 

One of the many fascinating fashion exhibits. 

This hurdy-gurdy instrument is just one of the many exhibits of historical decorative arts and crafts in the museum.

This hurdy-gurdy instrument is just one of the many exhibits of historical decorative arts and crafts in the museum.

hurdy gurdy panel

Eileen Gray

For us, the highlight of the museum's numerous exhibitions was the Eileen Gray retrospective. It encompassed everything we love about mid-century modern design – its furniture, architecture and art.

Born in Enniscorthy, Ireland in 1878, Gray moved to Paris in 1906 where she spent most of her working life. In Paris, inspired to explore new ideas by the likes of Picasso and Modigliani, she was one of the first artists and furniture designers to employ lacquer techniques as part of her work.  She was interested in all aspects of design from furniture to architecture to interior design.

Gray loved to combine the opulence of Art Deco with the minimalism and clean lines of modernism as well as integrate the use of pure line and colour of the De Stijl artists.

Gray's iconic end table named E1027.

Gray's iconic end table named E1027.

An example of Gray's use of lacquer in her furniture.

Model of contemporary architectural designed by Gray.


I was also fascinated by the “Beyond Pebbledash” installation, a celebration of domestic architecture and design.  The installation consisted of a single pebbledash house (a common small Dublin home with exterior walls made of pebbles mixed with stucco).  In the mid 20th century, this façade covered up poor construction and kept costs down for affordable homes in both Europe and North America. Back story: The early 1950s home I grew up in had pebbledash walls.  We just called it by it less glamorous term "stucco."

This life-size house sitting in the middle of the huge parade square has a real façade but only a steel skeleton frame of the walls, interior doors, chimney and roof.  The curatorial notes say the installation is intended to provoke questions like:

  • What have we built?
  • Why have we built it here?
  • What is the nature of house vs. home?
  • What makes a great liveable city?

More information at:

My personal fascination was mostly around how the pebbledash house was rendered almost insignificant in the massive parade square  (the size of about two football fields) and the equally massive barracks building.  To me, the “pebbledash home” installation spoke of the insignificance and temporary nature of most houses versus the timelessness of iconic structures. I also don’t get the link to the liveable city movement as the home is situated in what I would consider the most desolate and inhospitable urban environment one could imagine.

While in the past, a house became a home as most people lived in them all their lives. Often too multiple generations would live in the same house. Today, for most people a house is just a commodity to be bought and sold as part of their evolving lifestyle – they never really become a home.

The pebbledash house located at the far corner from the entrance to the museum is dwarfed in the stark parade square.

While wandering the museum, you get several different perspectives of the house. 

A view of the back of the house and the cafe spilling out onto the plaza gives some life to the parade square.

Close up view of the house. I found the ropes around the installation very distracting. 

Side-view of the pebbledash house.

Side-view of the pebbledash house.

Last Word

Of all the National Museums we visited in Dublin, the Decorative Arts and History Museum was our favourite.  You could easily spend a few hours here.

The National Gallery unfortunately was under restoration and so the building and art did not meet expectations. The National Museum of Modern Art was also a bit of a disappointment as half of the gallery was closed for the installation of new exhibitions. 

On the good side, all of the Ireland’s national museums are FREE!  


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Window licking along Florence's Via Tornabuoni

One of the things I love to do when flanuering any downtown is take pictures of the reflections of buildings and people in the windows of the fashion boutique.  This works particularly well in cities where there is a strong fashion culture as the fashion boutique window are often like mini art exhibitions. In Florence, the Via de' Tornabuoni is the high street for fashions with the likes of Gucci, Salvatore Ferrogamo, Tiffany's, Enrico Coveri, Damiani, Bulgari and Buccalllati calling it home.

When Brenda said she wanted to go to the Salvatore Ferrogamo Museum, I secretly said "Yahoo" as it meant I would have some time to do some window licking on Via de' Tornabuoni.

Back story

The literal English translation of the french term for window shopping is "window licking," which I have adopted for my practice of window photography as I am often so close to the window that it looks like I could be licking it.

Window licking on Tornabuoni 

I have chosen these images as I feel they convey the diversity of visual imagery along Tornabuoni.  I have also chosen not to provide captions as I would prefer the reader to study each image without my influence.  I hope you will enjoy them as much as I did taking them and studying them afterwards. 


I have tried window licking in my hometown Calgary many times, but I never seem to get the same quality of images. I don't know if it is the light, the lack of quality fashion windows or just my poor luck. 

Almost everyday, I like to take some time to look at and reflect on my travel photos. The ones I seem to gravitate to the most art the "window licking" ones. I'd love to hear from you which one was your favourite and why?

If you like this blog, you might like:

Window licking in Paris

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Lyon sidewalk ballet

Postcard Willie

It all started at age 12 when his parents took him on a vacation from Calgary to Austria -  the family’s homeland. Without any encouragement from his parents, wee Willie decided to send postcards back to his family and friends in Calgary. That was 43 years ago. Today Postcard Willie sends photos to over 300 family and friends from around the world, sometimes as many as 25 in one day.  To date, he estimates he has sent several thousands of postcards from over 50 different countries. Yes Postcard Willie is well travelled.

Depending on the length of the trip, Postcard Willie can send as many as 300 postcards on single trip costing him $500+ in cards and postage. One day while on our Ireland golf trip, Willie found time to find, write and send 12 cards in the hour between the end of the day’s round and getting on the bus back to the hotel.

“Everyone loves to get postcards; some love the images, some the stamps he says. They call it ‘happy mail. People often tell me they keep them for many years.” Needless-to-say, many of the postcards end up on fridges and he estimates that half of the recipients have several shoeboxes full of Willie’s postcards.

Willie doesn’t just buy any postcard either. He looks specifically for cards with lots of information about the place (city, province, country), maybe with some history. He also looks for postcards that relate to each person’s specific interests (for example, if a buddy likes beer he will look for a postcard of a local pub or brew; for another person who likes churches, he will send them a church postcard.

In one case, he knew a person really liked tea so he found a postcard about tea and put it in an envelope with a few local tea bags and mailed to his friend. He also makes a point of sending postcards to people he knows whose homeland he is visiting.  And he likes to use postcards as a thank you to people who have travelled with him and his wife.  Willie prides himself on being creative with his postcard selections.

Over the years, many of his family and friends have also taken up the habit of also sending postcards when travelling. Some, in fun, even send cards to Willie from exotic tourist places like Canmore and Banff, just a few kilometers from Calgary his hometown.

A beer and some postcards at the Bunratty Castle in Ireland.

A beer and some postcards at the Bunratty Castle in Ireland.

Over the years, Postcard Willie has some interesting observations and recommendations:

  • The most expensive stamps are in Austria, where it takes 1.75 euros to send a postcard (over $2.25 CDN).
  • The slowest postal service is in India where it can take a couple of months for a postcard to get to Canada.
  • He recommends to always dating your postcard so recipients can tell how long it has taken to get to them.

He also likes to research the stamps that are available and if possible make sure people get new stamps or stamps that have some significant meaning, as many of his recipients have become stamp collectors.

He also buys postcards for himself as they often have images the average photographer could never capture. His personal collection is well over two thousand postcards.

Postcard Willie writing postcards on the Dunbar Golf Tour bus between rounds. 

Flying out of Frankfurt Airport so often (it is his jumping off point for European adventures), Postcard Willie is on a first name basis with Reinhard the shopkeeper at his favourite postcard kiosk that he has been frequenting for over 20 years. He is often greeted with “Back again? Why don’t you move here?”  The same is true at the Munich Train Station where he is also a  frequent buyer.

In 2007 and 2008, Willie was working in India and so was sending lots of postcards home to his wife in Calgary.  One day when he was picking up his mail at the supermail box in the community of Panorama Hills he noticed a guy loitering around the boxes.  When he opened his mailbox the man he approached him asking “are you the guy who sends all the postcards from India?” Turns out he was the postal carrier for the area and his family was from India.  Long story short, he and Willie became friends, with Postcard Willie taking things to his family in India and bringing back things from India to Calgary - including a bolt of fabric, which was used to make a shirt and pants for Postcard Willie.

Postcard Willie writing some postcards in Casablanca, Morocco. And, yes Postcard Willie is always smiling, maybe there is something to sending people postcards and being happy, or perhaps it is because he is on vacation! 

Postcard Willie writing some postcards in Casablanca, Morocco. And, yes Postcard Willie is always smiling, maybe there is something to sending people postcards and being happy, or perhaps it is because he is on vacation! 

Last Word

Over the years, Postcard Willie estimates he has mailed over 10,000 cards to family and friends. His motto is “if they have a postcard, I will find it.”

While exploring the streets and alleys of Florence happened upon these girls writing a bunch of postcards. Thought Willie would be happy. 

While exploring the streets and alleys of Florence happened upon these girls writing a bunch of postcards. Thought Willie would be happy. 

Mass postcard writing by students in Florence. 

Mass postcard writing by students in Florence. 

Stop and smell the flowers in Silver Springs!

By Richard White, August 19, 2014

In 2002, one of nine BirthPlace Forests was initiated along the Silver Springs Boulevard off Crowchild Trail, as the gateway into the community.  This joint initiative of BP Energy, Calgary Parks, Calgary Health Region and Golden Acres saw 7,000 trees planted to create a unique urban forest. The BP BirthPlace Forests program was launched to celebrate every newborn baby in Calgary by planting a tree in its honour - the program ended in 2010.

 However, for Silver Springs’ residents, the forest was the catalyst to create the Botanical Gardens of Silver Springs.  In 2006, a small 400 square foot space (size of double car garage) within the forest was the humble beginnings of what is now a 15,000 square foot (the equivalent of 10+ Silver Springs bungalows) garden full of annuals and perennials. 

In 2009, the community also established its Community Edible Garden, in addition to the regular vegetables boxes as part of a fun “Kids Grow” program. Today the Silver Springs Botanical Garden includes the Oval Garden, Rose Garden, Old Post Garden Shakespeare Garden, a the Wall Garden and an labyrinth. 

Map of the various gardens the combine to create the Silver Springs Botanical Garden 

Trail through the Birth Place Forest that gets you to the gardens. 

Enjoying the labyrinth.

One of the many colourful flower gardens. 

A section of the Rose Garden. 

The Shakespeare Garden mixes quotation, flowers and plants to create a unique experience. 


Community Spirit

The 1,300-foot Wall Garden is the showpiece of the gardens with its spectacular mix of colours and textures.  William Morf, a Silver Springs resident, initiated the garden by starting a 100-foot garden along the ugly noise barrier at the back of his property. Soon others joined in. Today, a merry and dedicated band of 30 or so green-thumbed volunteers contribute over 6,000 hours of sweat labour annually to maintain and enhance the various gardens. 

Who knows how much money and plant material they have also contributed? The Silver Springs Botanical Gardens is just another example of Calgary’s amazing community spirit and “can do” attitude.

The botanical gardens area has become a popular place for locals to “stop and smell the flowers.” This hidden gem should be on every Calgarian’s calendar as a must- walk; Tourism Calgary and Travel Alberta should add it to their websites as a fun and free tourist attraction.  

Given the gardens are just minutes off Crowchild Trail, there should be a tourist attraction sign informing visitors of the Silver Springs Botanical Garden.  For dog owners, the bonus is that the gardens are also an off leash area. And for those with a budding interest in gardening; this would be a great place to find out what grows in Calgary, and you might even be lucky enough to get some free gardening advice. 


The 1300 foot Wall Garden. 

The Sunflower garden. 

Smell The Flowers 

flower pistal
purple flowers

Yes, the Silver Springs Botanical Garden is literally just off Crowchild Trail. 


Calgary’s Silver Springs community extends from the north bluff of the Bow River north to Crowchild Trail and from Silver Springs Gate west to Nose Hill Drive. Construction of the community started in 1972 and was completed in 1980, and since then this community of 9,000 people has aged gracefully.

 And, yes there really are “silver springs” in the community.  A series of springs cascades from the northern bank of the Bow River, which forms the southern boundary of the community. While the area was closed due to the flood in 2013, plans are in place to make upgrades to all of the large natural areas of Bowmont Park – including access to the silver springs. Hopefully it will open again in 2015.

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.


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!


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

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

Tours of the B Reactor are available on specific days throughout the summer.  Check the website 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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Baseball: Seattle vs Okotoks

Richard White, July 29, 2014

Recently two golf buddies drove from Calgary to Seattle – 1146 km or 12+ hours - for a couple of Seattle Mariners’ games. This is the second year they have done this and I don’t think they are really big Mariner fans.  Finding myself with time on my hands, I called up another golf buddy and asked if he wanted to go see the Dawgs play in Okotoks – 35 km away for me (and about 10 for him).  We even decided to make it a family event and he rounded up a couple of grandkids to increase the fun factor. 

On a whim, he decided to check the availability of tickets game day morning. Yikes, only single tickets available, but there was room on the Family Berm down the 3rd base line for five bucks, we were all still game to go.

We arrived at Seaman Stadium (built in 2007 for $8 million with a capacity of 2,700) and while not quite the wow factor of the 47,476 capacity Safeco Field in Seattle, it had the look, feel and atmosphere of a big league stadium - the grass field was impeccable and the centre field fence is 400 feet away.   The concessions included a Candy Store (kids drinks and snacks) and an adult beverage window with a variety of cold beers – could it get any better.

We grabbed our seats (space on the grass) just past 3rd base and just a few feet from the Visitors’ dug out. You could just walk up to look in a anytime during the game – talk about up close and personal.   

Sure, we didn’t get to watch multi-millionaires like Hernandez or Cano play (their combined salaries of would build six Seaman Stadiums) but the college kids in the Western Major Baseball league put on a good show. Sanchez put on a clinic at third base, bare handing a bunt and underhanding a bullet to first base for the out.  And the first baseman made an impressive diving catch of a line drive late in the game that should have been the TSN highlight of the night. 

The big bonus though came after the game. Everyone was invited onto the field to chat and even play catch with the players.  Some families ran the bases together while others got players’ autographs. It was like an elementary school track and field day - with balls being thrown everywhere and girls doing cartwheels.  A good time was had by all.

Seaman Stadium seating capacity is 1600. 

The team has been very successful both on and off the field. 

The Family Berm along the 3rd base line is the family fun zone with people of all ages and backgrounds. 

Up close and personal.

Just like the big leagues there are mascots to hug.

Just like the big leagues there are mascots to hug.

Everyone gets up and dances at the 7th inning stretch just like in the big leagues. 

The mad dash after the game begins. 

A future Dawg and his Mom practice running the bases. 

A future Dawg and his Mom practice running the bases. 

Working on fielding those grounders. 

Two eager autograph seekers.  

Checking out the home teams bench after the game. 

Today's line-up.

Today's line-up.

The boys of summer have to do some clean-up after the game. 

Careful boys a little more to the right. 

Leaving the Dawg Pound - nickname for Seaman Stadium. 

Extra Innings

The Western Major Baseball League (WMBL) is a collegiate summer baseball league that can trace its roots back to 1931. The current league evolved from several predecessors including the Southern Baseball League, the Northern Saskatchewan Baseball League and Saskatchewan Major Baseball League. The Southern Baseball League existed from 1931 to 1974. The Northern Saskatchewan Baseball League existed from 1959 to 1974. The two leagues merged in 1975 to create the Saskatchewan Major Baseball League. The name was changed to the Western Major Baseball League in 2000 to reflect more teams playing in Alberta, and in the future, possibly British Columbia.

The WMBL is a wood bat league along the lines of such American collegiate circuits as the Cape Cod League, New England Collegiate Baseball League, Coastal Plain League, Northwoods League, Horizon Air Summer Series, Pacific International League and West Coast League.

I guess for some it is critical to watch the big leagues, but for this everyday tourist, a day in Okotoks was just as fun as many of the professional sporting events I have attended.  This was the fourth consecutive sellout for the Dawgs so they must be doing something right. 

From the Okotoks Western Wheel this week: The Western Major Baseball League drew 144,000 fans this year, a new record and an average of 640 per game. The Dawgs' attendance is 61,189 with 1 game to go (not far from half the league total) and an average of 2,781 per game (that's close to 10% of the towns population).

I hope my buddies who drove to Seattle had just as much fun as we did. 

GG writes: Enjoyed your article. My son and I just got back from touring the minor league ballaprks of North Carolina. I will take them over big league any day (except for Wrigley field ) The intimacy is way more fun at those parks. 

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Kensington: One of North America's Healthiest Urban Villages

Richard White, July 19, 2014

With summer officially here, it is a great time to get out and enjoy the city’s great urban outdoors.  One of Calgary’s summer highlights is Kensington’s “Sun and Salsa” festival, Sunday July 20th from 11 am to 5 pm.  Organized by the Kensington BRZ since 1986 this event attracts up to 100,000 people for the fun, festivities and tastings. However, Kensington Village is a fun place to shop or meet friends for coffee, lunch or dinner anytime of the year.

For Calgary newcomers, and those who haven’t been to Kensington in awhile here’s the lowdown on Kensington Village.  First off the boundaries are 10th Street NW from the Bow River to 5th Avenue and Kensington Road from 10th Street to 14th Avenue and a few commercial blocks adjacent to 10th Street and Kensington Road.

One of the things that makes Kensington unique is that it has its own cinema. The Plaza Theatre was built in 1929 as a garage, but in 1935 it was converted to a movie house (Calgary’s third). In 1947, it began experimenting with foreign and art films, becoming an art house cinema in 1977. It has been the home of Calgary’s film community ever since.

Plaza Theatre is home to Calgary's film community.

Kensington Pub is Calgary’s quintessential neighbourhood pub. Situated on 10A Street just off Kensington Road, it is actually two buildings – a 1911 brick bungalow and a 1912 duplex.  It became a pub in 1982 and has been popular watering hole ever since.

Long before Starbucks or Phil & Sebastian’s, there was Higher Ground and the Roasterie.  I remember when I first came to Calgary back in 1981 the pungent smell of freshly roasted coffee was synonymous with walking along 10th Street.

Today, the Roasterie’s mini-plaza on 10th Street is always (yes, even in the winter as it faces west so gets lots of sun) animated.  It is a great public space that works (because there are several small shops facing onto the plaza) without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on decoration and public art.  Could it be that smaller is better?

Kensington's 10th Street Plaza next to Roasterie is a popular busking spot.

Higher Ground is just one of the many cafes in Kensington.

Higher Ground is just one of the many cafes in Kensington.

With 270 businesses, Kensington Village has something for everyone’s taste.  Naked Leaf Tea shop offers artisan teas, as well as beautiful teapots and cups. Smitten, Kismet and Purr are just three of several women’s fashion boutiques.  There are also several great furniture shops like Cushy Life, Kilian and Metro Element.

Kensington is an eclectic collection of independent shops. (photo credit: Neil Zeller)

Kensington is an eclectic collection of independent shops. (photo credit: Neil Zeller)

Every urban village needs a shoe repair store. Alpine Shoe Service has been around for over 30 years.  Their "Thought of the Day" is both fun and thought provoking. 

Kensington BRZ is a leader in innovation. Here street parking has been converted into a sidewalk to allow for a patio next to The Yardhouse.  It is also home to a container bar located in a side alley. 

Kensington's Container Bar located in an alley between two buildings has been an instant hit. 

The 10th Street and 4th Avenue foodie corner has its own ambience with Safeway, Sunnyside Market, Sidewalk Citizen and Second Cup.  There is also what I call the Parisian block (1200 block of Kensington Road) where pedestrians will find the paring of Kensington Wine Market (great Saturday afternoon wine tastings) and Peasant Cheese.

No village would be complete without a good bookstore. Pages is one of Canada’s leading bookseller with over 10,000 titles in stock and one of the best author reading programs - everyone from David Suzuki to Stuart McLean. Pages is located in a 1947 building that was the City of Calgary’s first branch library.

And, no visit to Kensington Village would be complete without a visit to Livingstone & Cavell Extraordinary Toys where reproductions of classic retro toys amuse both young and old. The place is more like an art museum than a store, which is not surprising given one of the owners is the CEO of the Glenbow Museum.

Livingstone & Cavell is fun for everyone.

Kensington’s hidden gem is the Kensington Riverside Inn which is actually on Memorial Drive.  Not only is it a great place for a weekend getaway, but its Chef’s Table restaurant is one of the city’s best restaurants – a great spot for a staycation.

Kensington Riverside Inn

Last word

What makes Kensington Village a fun place to explore is the eclectic mix of students (Alberta College of Art and SAIT), yuppies and empty nesters who all mix and mingle. The sidewalks are like a ballet with pedestrians, bikes and strollers “dancing” their way from place to place. Great urban villages attract people of all ages and backgrounds.

With 16 new developments on the drawing board, creating 1,000+ new homes - Kensington is one of North America’s healthiest urban villages.

St Johns on 10th is just one of several new mid-rise condos recently completed, under construction or planned. 

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. 


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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Flaneuring fun in downtown Tucson

Richard White, June 22, 2014 

Some days we just like to head out and explore without any particular agenda or destination. This is particularly fun in urban places where there are usually lots of surprises that aren't in the tourist brochures.  It is a must that you have to walk the street to find the surprises - you won't find them driving or cycling by.   

Recently, I was browsing our photos from our 8,907 km Spring Break 2014 Road Trip and found a collection of images from a fun day of flaneuring in downtown Tucson that I thought would make a nice "everyday tourist" photo essay. 

The great thing about flaneuring is its FREE, you can do it anywhere and you can do it everyday! 

One of our favourite things to do when exploring an urban place is "window licking."  I find images like this as interesting or more interesting than anything in an art gallery.

Who knew a beautiful orange tree could grow (kinda) in downtown Tucson. 

Gotta love a drive in liquor store deli.

Perhaps the world's most colourful colonnade can be found attached to the Goodwill building. 

More window licking fun. 

The Chicago Music Store was a real find.  Family owned since 1919 it is fun place to explore - part music store part museum. 

The Chicago Music Store was a real find.  Family owned since 1919 it is fun place to explore - part music store part museum. 

Retro neon signage adds as much or more visual interest to a streetscape as most public art. 

Ran into a wedding and these young men were more than willing to pose for a photograph - everyone was having fun (see girls in background). 

Sure Portland and Vancouver have their food trucks, but what about an art truck? 

Public art as transit shelter?  Tacky? Fun? Clever? 

Butterflies & Skeletons? Tucson has a rich high and low brow culture. 

More fun signage as public art!

More fun signage as public art!

We did not explore the roof-top patio at the Playground Lounge but it definitely adds an element of fun to Congress St. 

You won't find this postcard image in any of Tucson's tourist information brochures. 

Nor this one!

Nor this one!

Heading home we discovered Tucson's Rattlesnake pedestrian bridge that links the southside residents to downtown who are cut off from downtown by a 6-lane highway.  

Inside the rattlesnake!

Rattlesnake tail plaza. And, yes there is rattle sound as you pass by!

Postcards: Emerald Pools & Wilderness Area Trails, Zion National Park

By Richard White, March 23, 2014

After yesterday's hiking the Canyon Lookout Trail in Zion National Park, Utah we decided to check out some other trails in the park today.  In the morning, we did the Emerald Pools Trail (lower, middle and upper) and then headed to the Zion National Park wilderness area where there are less people and we were told some easy to moderate hikes for beginners. 

We were also told to get there before 10 am as there is limited parking.  So we were up early for breakfast and to check-out.  It was cool and windy and we were wondering if hiking so early was a good idea - we are fair weather hikers at best.  However, at the Park Gate we were told that as the air warms, the winds would die down within the hour.  He didn't lie - it was a beautiful morning for a hike.  Not sure how people do it in the summer when the temperature is over 30 degrees Celsius almost daily.   

Postcards: Emerald Pools Trail

While yesterday's postcards spoke for themselves, I think these postcards do need some context. For example, there are not emerald-coloured pools on the Emerald Pools Trail. 

I was intrigued by this rock wall that looked like it had a huge head etched into it. Can you see it just to the right of the big black, tree-like shadow?

This is one of the many rock steps that you have to negotiate on the trail up and down.  It is challenging to balance the need to look where you are walking while looking at the rock formations above.

I loved the light through this gap. The rock on the right looks like it has the lips of a tuna. 

Again. the bright light created intense shadows and colours that are very surreal.

This is a close up of the water that trickles out of the rocks at the upper pool.

This is a close up of the water that trickles out of the rocks at the upper pool.

One of several small waterfalls we experienced on our hike. Again, the bright light and the water combine to create a surreal image.

Postcards: People On The Trail

The Emerald Pools hike is popular for people of all ages and fitness levels. This postcard is under the largest waterfall where you can feel the mist and some water falling.  It was refreshing on a hot day in March; I can only imagine how welcomed it would be in the summer.

Other people found a quiet place to relax and meditate. 

We also found this 19-month old who was busy colouring while Dad carried her up the trail.  However, we were told she had hiked on her own another trail the day before. 

We also found this 19-month old who was busy colouring while Dad carried her up the trail.  However, we were told she had hiked on her own another trail the day before. 

Some people aren't satisfied just looking at the rock formations, they have to climb them.  Look for the climber in orange helmet about two thirds of the way up in the crack of the rock in the middle of the photo.

Postcards: Zion Wilderness Area

From the parking lot, you see an eerie vista of a meadow of dead-looking, stunted trees surrounded by a luminous red rock wall.  

As you get to the trail head, you get closer to the wall of rocks and the savanna of small, twisted and stunted trees. 

An example of the shedding bark of the one of the larger trees.

Just a few minutes on the trail, you encounter this sign. Indeed, it does feel like you are entering a wilderness; you feel like you are leaving the world behind. At this time of year, the landscape of dead-looking trees creates an eerie setting.  

As you proceed along the trail, you encounter beehive-shaped rock formations that are deeply etched horizontally by the elements.

The constant struggle to survive was never more evident than in this tree growing near the top of this beehive formation.

These mushroom-like growths, no more than a foot-long protruded off the side of the beehive. You could spend an hour exploring just one beehive.  

This six-foot abstract sculpture was hidden in a crevice in the rock formation.   

As you get closer to the rocks, they become more and more abstract and intense in colour, shape and line.

As you get closer to the rocks, they become more and more abstract and intense in colour, shape and line.

Last Word

I think we lucked out in visiting Zion National Park in late March as the weather was cool in the morning, but quickly heated up by 11 am.  By April, you are already getting temperatures of +30 Celsius in the afternoon.  

We also lucked out in that we could take our own car to wherever we wanted to hike and then move on.  Beginning in April, you have to take the Park's shuttle bus rather than your car as there are so many people visiting and limited parking.  It would not be the same experience with so many people and buses. 

If you are traveling in the area of Zion National Park, consider booking a night or two in Springdale and plan a couple of fun hikes or maybe a bike, horse or tube ride.  

I also think the light was wonderful in the spring. The southerly sun was low enough to get into of the caves and gaps, which wouldn't be the case in the summer when the sun is more overhead. The combination of the coloured rock and the intense sun had a magical synergy.  I can see why the indigenous people would see this as a sacred place.

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Sleeping Around In Memphis

By Richard White, March 3, 2014

One of the things we do when visiting a new city is to identify and stay at two or more hotels in the city centre so we can better appreciate the unique character of different districts.  Sometimes it can be quite amazing how contrasting a city can be depending on where you stay. This was never truer than our recent trip to Memphis where we chose the Peabody Hotel in the heart of the city centre and the River Inn of Harbor Town on its edge.

Peabody Hotel: The Downtown Mansion

The historic Peabody is best known for its ducks that spend the day in the hotel’s lobby fountain and the night on their rooftop patio.  The ducks draw huge crowds (young and old) twice a day as they “march” to and from the elevator. The duck parade dates back to the 1930s when then General Manager, Frank Shutt returned from a weekend hunting trip and thought it would be fun to leave three live English Call Duck decoys in the lobby’s fountain.  The guests loved it and now it has become legendary.  Lean more.

The famous Peabody ducks parading from the fountain to the elevator where they will spend the night in their penthouse suite.  Talk about fun, funky and quirky; this is one of the quirkiest attractions we have seen. (Photo Credit: The Peabody Memphis)

The famous Peabody ducks parading from the fountain to the elevator where they will spend the night in their penthouse suite.  Talk about fun, funky and quirky; this is one of the quirkiest attractions we have seen. (Photo Credit: The Peabody Memphis)

The Peabody's rooftop patio is a great place for summer concerts and events. (Photo Credit: The Peabody Memphis)

The lobby of the Peabody has many historical collages; this one continues the duck story to its logical conclusion and also adds to the sense of fun. 

What we found most intriguing about the Peabody is that it is more than a hotel; it is like a mansion in the middle of downtown.  The lobby is the living room where people meet, lounge and enjoy a little food and drink as if they were at home - at least that was our experience.  It was January and cold so maybe the lobby buzz was a little magnified, but you definitely get the sense the Peabody’s lobby is like a big living room complete with comfy couches and chairs.  The hotel has several “dining rooms” (aka restaurants), a rooftop “patio” (aka back yard) and hundreds of “bedrooms” (aka guest rooms) just like a huge mansion. 

The Peabody's lobby bar is a great place to sit and watch the world go by. 

The Peabody’s lobby is also home to four Lansky Brothers (better known as Lansky’s) stores (aka closet) – women’s fashions, men’s fashions, souvenirs and women’s accessories.  It is best known as “the clothier to The King,” and yes you can get your own sequined shirt, even a whole outfit if you desire.  The Peabody lobby is simply the best place for shopping in downtown Memphis.

A quintessential Memphis experience is to cozy up in the lobby with friends and order a Jack Daniel’s. The Peabody actually goes to the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg TN to personally select barrels of whiskey for the hotel’s Peabody Select.  A whole section of the lobby bar’s menu is dedicated to Jack Daniel’s.

The guest rooms have the same comfort and charm but with wonderful views of the city and Mississippi River.  Our junior suite had a comfy chair with good light for reading (always a bonus) and a desk for writing (much appreciated); the bathroom was spacious and included a bathtub, which, unfortunately for bath lovers, seems to be getting rarer.

But the best thing about our room were the reading lights on the bed’s headboard. We didn’t find them until the last night, as they are so sleek and subtle we mistook them for mere decoration.  A simple chrome rectangle about 8” long and 2”wide that pops out to become a light you can direct to exactly where you need it.  Ingenious. We want two for our home. 

This photo of our room shows the headboard lights, which as you can see can easily be missed given there are lamps on the bedside tables (Photo Credit: The Peabody Memphis)

River Inn: The Downtown Cottage

If the Peabody is Memphis’ downtown mansion, then the River Inn is its cottage.  Located on Mud Island, it is a short cab ride, a pleasant 20-minute walk or a 5-minute walk, then a 5-minute streetcar ride to Beale Street.  The River Inn is the gateway to Harbor Town, a master-planned community that looks and feels more like a cottage town than an urban village. While most North American cities have been creating high-rise urban villages in their city centers, Memphis has created an upscale cottage town on the 132-acre sandbar called Mud Island.  Rumour has it that it is home to several players and coaches of the Memphis Grizzlies NBA team.

The River Inn is a quaint 28-rooom boutique hotel that also includes one of Tennessee’s top fine dining restaurants (Paulette’s) and the Terrace, a rooftop bar and “small plates” restaurant.  The Inn also serves as the gateway to Harbor Town’s high street with its pub, restaurants, shops, café and Miss Cordelia’s, a quaint, but well stocked urban grocery. The little Café Eclectic is a hidden gem where you can hang out with the local arts community (the staff are all musicians) and sip on your favourite hot beverage and some great food – love the soups.

The charming River Inn welcomes you as you enter Harbour Town on Mud Island. 

The view from our room of the mighty Mississippi and the bridge to West Memphis in Arkansas. 

The breakfasts in Paulette's were always a highlight of our day.  Brenda loved the blueberry pancakes with Tennessee bacon.  The fresh squeezed Orange Juice was the best we've ever had.  We alway took the muffins for later.  Paulette's serves up a ginger crusted Scottish Salmon and the Roquefort Scallop Potatoes are yummy.  The K-Pie for dessert is big, bold and beautiful.  

The cozy lobby fireplace is a great spot to relax, read a newspaper or magazine. It is just like home.

The River Inn has the “best little lobby on the Mississippi.”  As well as being the entrance to Paulette’s, a grand piano takes center stage in the fireplace-equipped sitting area and the cozy “Little Bar” tucked away to the side. One night when we came home, a symphony of sounds greeted us - chatter from Paulette’s, soft music from the piano player and laughter echoing from the Little Bar’s (yes, it is little, really no more than a hallway from the lobby to Paulette’s)- eight seats.

The staff at the River Inn is, in a word - awesome. When we had a problem with a reservation at another hotel (I told you we like to sleep around), they said “leave it with us go have your breakfast” and while we were enjoying breakfast, they returned saying they were able to accommodate us in our room for the remainder of our stay.  Quickly, quietly and professionally our problem was solved. We were delighted to stay an extra two nights!

There was always a friendly smile at the front desk to greet us when we came home (and, it did feel like home), even at 2 am after coming back from the midnight jam at the International Blues Challenge on Beale Street. 

You could easily stay a weekend at the River Inn in Harbor Town and never leave Mud Island. The hearty breakfasts alone are worth staying there, but add in fine dining at Paulette’s, a happy hour cocktail at the Little Bar, an evening on the Terrace and a walk or jog along the mighty Mississippi or in the town site and you have the makings of a wonderful getaway.  The River Inn is a unique urban experience. 

The little Cafe Eclectic is just a block from the River Inn. 

The little Cafe Eclectic is just a block from the River Inn. 

Harbor Town is a wonderful place to stroll with lots of ponds and trails like this one.  There is a sense of peace and tranquility about the place. 

Last Word

Sleeping around – whether in Memphis or elsewhere – does have its benefits.  We would never have discovered Memphis’ Harbor Town if we hadn’t stayed at the River Inn. It changed our perception of Memphis as a place to visit in a really good way.

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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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