Mexico City: A Kaleidoscope of colour

Recently I posted a slide show of black and white photographs of every day places and space in Mexico City that was very well received, however, several readers also pointed out that Mexico is known for its splendid colour.  I too was overwhelmed by the colour of streets of Mexico City and one of the reason I chose to take some b&w photos was to see how the city looked without all of the colour.  

Based on reader feedback, I decided to put together a slide show that would capture the wonderful colour of the everyday people and places of Mexico City.  I hope you will enjoy the slide show.

Below is the Mexico City: Noir slide show if you'd like to compare. 

Comments are welcomed!

Hosteling: A Home Away From Home!

Since returning from my 18-day stay at the Hostel Suites in downtown Mexico City, many of my friends have asked, “How was it?”  In a word - “delightful.” 

Back Story: When my Mom said she wanted to go to Mexico City to see the Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine early in 2015, I thought this would be a great opportunity for us to go together (we had never before, just the two of us, travelled together). I had also been reading much about the City’s urban renewal.  An added bonus was my Mom loves staying in hostels (Blog: Discovering Hostels in your ‘70s and ‘80s) and I have always wanted to give it a try.

The Hostel Suites offered us a private room (with full bathroom) and free breakfast for $38 CDN/night (including the 10% discount because my Mom is a Hotel International member).  The location was great, just a few blocks from the Hidalgo Metro station and an easy walk into the Historico Centro (150-block historic district) full of museums, churches and shops, as well as an easy bus ride to Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine.

At the airport, I hopped into a taxi with my Hostel Suites destination and address written on a sheet of paper; however upon showing it to the driver he looked puzzled – not a good thing – but headed out.  The taxi ride was like a car chase scene from a movie - he cut in and out of traffic, headed up back alleys and side roads to bypass the traffic jams. Let the adventure begin!

Arriving save and sound at the Hostel Suites, I quickly took note we were across the street from the Plaza Revolucion Hotel (4.5 star) and half a block from Krystal Grand Reforma (4 star) – a good sign! 

Hostel Suites lounge. The wall mural was painted while we were there and completed for the "Day of Dead" dinner.  

Hotel Suites at night. There is a coffee shop and restaurants next to the entrance and across the street in the Plaza Revolucion Hotel Hotel is a Tequila bar. 

This Could Work!

The receptionist (located in a tiny space, under the stairs in the long hallway entrance) greeted me with a smile, knew that I was arriving and my room was ready.  Good first impression! I was given a quick tour of the TV room, kitchen (with large fridge for guests’ use), two lounges (one with a beer fridge) – all these rooms no larger than what you would find in a typical Canadian home, the exception being the kitchen – it was smaller than you would find in a 500sf condo.

Not our bedroom. Yes you can get queen beds and rooms with TVs. 

Our room, a barren large concrete box had two single beds, a bunk bed and a small desk; no pictures on the walls. The bathroom was large, with a sink and metal industrial lockers off the bedroom and a separate toilet and shower area next to the sink. This could work, I though!

Heading to the lounge for a beer ($1.20 CDN), I was quickly invited to join in a conversation about current world politics, travel, music and movies with group of six young adults from London, Perth, Amsterdam and New Zealand.  We then all headed out for something to eat (found a taco stand where we got 3 tacos for $2.40 CDN) and then back to the hostel’s lounge to continue our marathon discussion until 1 am.  For my entire stay, I was treated to wonderful conversations at breakfast, happy hour and late evenings.

Interesting to see how the future of mankind is viewed by 20 and 30 somethings from other countries. There was no talk of golf handicaps, aging parents, health issues or home renovations!  Over the 18-days, I realized it was not only an age thing but you view the world differently when you are travelling for 6 months at a time (which seemed to be the average length of their adventures) vs. a couple of nights or weeks vacation.  Travelling the world for extended periods of time definitely opens your eyes and mind.

Hotel Suites dining room. 

The bathroom sink.

Trip to Xochimilco

I think I cramped my Mom’s style a bit on this trip as usually when staying at a hostel, she mixes and mingles with others, even hanging out with the “kids” at times, but with me hanging around, she didn’t do that.  

The picturesque dock area is jammed with colourful boats all painted pretty much the same.  They make wonderful reflections in the water.

However, we had one major adventure with a “hostel tribe”, when eight of us headed off for an afternoon to Xochimilco, a quaint village with a wonderful market. The village is known as the Venus of Mexico for its colourful open air trajinera boats that float along canals bordered with amazing fields of flowers, garden centres, homes (large and small) and surreal, naked doll installations. 

This involved our first trip on Mexico City’s crowded subway and then transferring to another train. Once there, we walked to the dock (not really knowing where we were going) where the trajinera were. After deciding how long we wanted our boat trip to be, we negotiated a price for the boat and then again for beer and food from the boat vendors along the way. It all happened very smoothly.  After our boat ride, we wandered the streets to find a bar for more drinks and to soak up the ambience of the village, before making our way back to the train station for our return trip. A great day!

The peaceful and serene canal at the beginning of the trip is soon replaced by numerous vendor boats selling beer, food and musical entertainment. 

These dolls hanging from the trees and fences along the canal in various places make for a surreal experience. 

The Xochimilco market was a beehive of activity of merchants, deliveries and shoppers.  It was full of colour and smells, exactly what a market should be.

Wonderful display of flowers along on of the streets at the Xochimilco market. Flowers are big business in Mexico City, with incredible displays in almost every church we went into. 

Day of Dead Party

One of the reasons I wanted to go to Mexico in late October/early November was to experience the “Day of the Dead” festival.  Little did I know that one of the traditions of the Hostel Suites is to host a party for guests. The staff (and owner) prepared all the food and dressed up in their Day of the Day attire, hosting all 50 us to what I imagine to be a typical family “Day of the Dead” Party. How authentic is that!

Me, my Mom and Hotel Suites owner. 

Hostel vs. Hotel

One of the great things about staying at a hostel vs. a hotel is how much more relaxing it is. I think it has to do partly with expectations. When you stay at a fancy hotel, you expect everything to be perfect – room décor, staff and food.  As a result everybody seems to be a bit stiff, trying to make a good impression both the uniformed staff and the other guests.  When people sit in a hotel lounge, rarely does anybody already in a conversation invite a stranger sitting near them to join in a conversation – yet this is a common occurrence at Hostel Suites. 

The hostel is like being at home - people slouching on the couch watching TV, (usually soccer), others on their laptops and still others are in the kitchen/dining room.  In the morning, people came down for breakfast in their sweat pants and t-shirts, wet hair and no make-up. I didn’t live in residence at university but I imagine pretty much the same scenario. Everyone was relaxed. Nobody was trying to impress anybody. People mixed and mingled easily.

There was no menu at breakfast. Everyone had the same thing -  a bowl of fresh fruit, a couple of pieces of toast (the homemade Black Currant jam was to die for), the daily feature (I loved the quesadillas) and coffee.  And yes, you could ask for more if you wished.

There were no fancy omelettes, frittatas or eggs benedict, no espressos either. It was relaxing not having to make a choice. Everyone just seemed happy with what they got.

Unlike a hotel, there were no extra pillows or towels at the hostel. In fact one day (we did have daily housekeeping service) they replaced my towel with something that I would have thrown in the rag bag, but a request for a new towel was quickly answered and we moved on. The bed’s mattress was very firm and to my surprise, it suited my back better than ours at home. The sheets were thin but fine given Mexico City’s warmer climate.

The hostel receptionists did double duty as concierge. Every day we told them what we wanted to see and they would print out a map with how to get there (bus, metro or walk) and suggest what to see in the area or along the way.  They arranged our day trip to Teotihuacan with a local tour company. They were as good as any 4 or 5-star hotel concierges I have experienced – always friendly, smiling and helpful.

When it came time to leave, they even had a fixed-price private car service to take us to the airport (35 minute ride) for $18 CDN.  Our 18-day stay at the hostel cost us a total of $684 CDN – many would pay that for a weekend getaway.

Hotel Suites inviting lounge chairs.  The lounge had a great patio ambience with just a plastic sheet covering the rooftop opening high above. Doesn't this shout out "Relax."

Safety

Safety was never an issue at the hostel with a 24-hr receptionist. We had card key locks just like a hotel. While the streets around the hostel were visually a bit rough, I never felt unsafe during nightly walks which took me off the beaten path to find local street vendors, quaint family restaurants and cafes, as well as small parks and plazas.

Last Word

I would definitely stay at a hostel again and if I go back to Mexico City, I would stay at the Hostel Suites. It quickly became my home-away-from-home.

Hosteling isn’t for everyone and I am not sure it is for me all the time, as I too love the plush towels, bathrobes, nicely decorated rooms and other frills that come with a luxury hotel.  And I am definitely not sure if I could stay in one of the shared rooms with shared bathrooms (what my Mom usually does when travelling alone).  

Not all hostels are created equal. Some people moved to Hostel Suites from another hostel because theirs was too noisy from partiers.  Though many guests said Hostel Suites had the smallest hostel kitchen they had ever seen, many were able to cook up some tasty-looking meals.

Based on a sample size of one, I found the simplicity and friendliness of the hostel refreshing.  There was no pretentiousness at Hostel Suites - appropriate given both my Mom and I agreed that one of the great things about Mexico City is its lack of “pretentiousness.”

If you are curious about staying at a hostel, I encourage you to try it. You might like it and your wallet sure will!

If you like this blog, you might like:

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Happy Hour capital of North America is where?

Bet you can’t guess where the Happy Hour Capital of North America is?  It is definitely not in one of the 23 US states that have banned happy hours. And, it is also not in Alberta where, in 2008, the Alberta Liquor Board set strict pricing guidelines for all drinks limiting Happy Hour pricing to 8pm. So where is it? 

The Sauce magazine waiting for us with some other goodies at Hotel Monaco, Seattle.

Happy Hour Fun

One of the take-away memories of a recent trip to Seattle was the Happy Hour Experience. A magazine called “The Sauce (The Definitive Guide to Eating and Drinking in Seattle)” provided us with a comprehensive list of all Seattle Happy Hours - I stopped counting at 600.

Arriving on a Wednesday at the historic Mayflower Park Hotel we were informed there are two Happy Hours – one in their Oliver’s Bar where there were free appies and one with free wine tasting in their lovely Andaluca Restaurant.  

Mayflower Park Hotel's Oliver's Bar before happy hour. 

Happy hour at Andaluca restaurant in Mayflower Park Hotel is very civilized. 

A few days later, when we moved to the  Hotel Max iknown for its incredible contemporary art collection, we found out they have a free craft beer Happy Hour.  Yes, every day, guests wander back to the hotel lobby (aka living room) to enjoy free draft beer, meet and chat with strangers and watch the wonderful sidewalk ballet on the street outside through the big picture windows.  The early birds get the good seats, as this quickly becomes a standing room only event.

The Happy Hour fun didn’t stop there. The Hotel Monaco with its captivating, comfy guest rooms (ours being like an Andy Warhol installation with lots of bold accent colours, playful art and cloud wallpaper over the bed) was tough to leave. But again, a free wine tasting downstairs was too big a draw. Each day. The concierge picks a different wine to feature; often sourcing wines from boutique Washington wineries. And with very liberal pours he invites you to comeback for seconds. 

Samuel Beckett watches over happy hour at Hotel Max. 

Everyone loves happy hour at Hotel Monaco often moving to the restaurant and their signature cocktail the Sazerac (Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, Peychaud's Bitters, Sugar, Lemon Peel and Absinthe Rinse. photo credit: Evan Johnson

   A full pour at Hotel Monaco.

 A full pour at Hotel Monaco.

YYC Happy Hour Fun

Calgary is not without its Happy Hour culture. Ask around and you will discover Calgary’s after work socializing is on the rise. Hotel Arts, on Thursdays from 4 to 8 pm, offers free live music curated by local singer/songwriter Amy Thiessen paired with $4.99 pints and trendy RAW Bar cuisine. 

Mikey’s Juke Joint in SunAlta offers a Friday Happy Hour with free live music.  A musician from Mikey’s stable of musicians hosts each one, including two of Calgary’s most talented musicians - Tim Williams (winner of the 2014 International Blues Challenge in Memphis) and Steve Pineo (Calgary's entry into the 2015 International Blues Challenge).

Google "Calgary Happy Hour" and you won't find a comprehensive list of 600 happy hours anywhere, the best I could find was a November 4, 2014 list by John Gilchrist, published in Avenue Magazine title "25 of Calgary's Best Happy Hours."  

Calgary is a changing…

For a long time, Calgary’s downtown and surrounding urban neighbourhoods were criticized for not having a robust, after work Happy Hour culture like Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver do.  In the mid to late 20th century, Calgary’s downtown workers were commonly known to quickly flee to the ‘burbs after work. However, this had changed significantly in the past decade with the emergence of Stephen Avenue Walk (SAW) as one of Canada’s best restaurant rows.  The 300 block of SAW, with its 200 floors of offices, is centre ice for downtown GABEters (geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers, engineers) with the likes of The Metropolitan Grill and Local on 8th. 

The 21st century has also seen the emergence of Calgary’s Beltline as one of North America’s best urban communities with its warehouses along 10th Avenue (replacing 11th Avenue or Electric Avenue as it was known in the ‘80s) as the hangout spot for the “young and restless.” Here, mega beer palaces like CRAFT Beer Market, National Beer Hall and Commonwealth Bar and Stage are bustling places helped by the fact the Beltline is a haven for 25 to 34-year olds in Calgary (a whopping 43% of the communities population falls into that YUPPIE age bracket). It is not uncommon to see a line up waiting to get into their favourite Beltline watering hole at Happy Hour.

Kensington Village is also emerging as an after-work hot spots like the Oak Tree Tavern.  Bridgeland too is now home to the very chic and cool Cannibale cocktail bar.  While Calgary may not have as comprehensive a “Happy Hour” culture as Seattle, it does have a mushrooming “after work” socializing culture.  

If you like this blog, you might like:

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Mexico City: City of Museums

Mexico City is rumoured to have over 150 museums and I don’t doubt that number. There seems to be a museum or two on every street in the 150-block historic centre (Centro Historico), as well as many outside it. My mom estimates that over our 18-day visit, we visited over 30 museums.  Quite frankly, I lost count.

But whatever the number, we do agree on our seven favourite museums (no particular order):

  • Museo Nacional de Antropologia
  • Museo Soumaya
  • Museo Nacional de Arte
  • Museo de Arte Popular
  • Secretaria de Educacion Publica
  • Museo Frida Kahlo
  • Museo del Juguete Antiguo Mexico (aka the Toy Museum)

Museo Nacional de Antropologia 

Built in 1964 and designed by Pedro Ramirez Vazquez, the Museo Nacional de Antropologia (MNA) still looks very contemporary - flat roof and huge central plaza largely covered with a 275-foot canopy balanced on a 36-ft pillar decorated with European and Mexican civilization reliefs.  Unlike many new museums and art galleries in the late 20th and early 21st century, the architectural design of MNA enhances, not competes with the artifacts. Just as it ideally always should.

The museum is unique also in that the ground floor, dedicated to archaeological finds from ancient Mexico - each room dealing with a particular civilization or region of the country - allows you to wander outside into gardens and courtyards thus recreating an “in situ” experience with the artifacts.   I loved the outdoor reconstructions of the Mayan temples and Monte Alban Tomb.

This is a huge museum with 23 exhibition rooms on two levels, covering 800,000+ square feet and sitting on almost 20 acres.  While most people we talked to spend about 2 hours at the museum, they must have been running through it. I think all North Americans should visit this museum to develop a better appreciation of our collective history – the artifacts and stories are compelling.

Admission: 64 MX pesos (about $5 CDN) (no children or family pricing)

Time: Could easily be 4+ hours. While you are in the area, you might want to check out the Mexico Zoo or the Chapultepec Castle at the top of a hill in the middle of the park of the same name – both are close by. There are also two other smaller museums nearby - Museo Tamyo and Museo de Arte Moderno.

Tamayo's bold and beautiful mural graces the entrance to Mexico City's insightful Anthropology Museum a "must see" for all North Americans. 

The museum's courtyard has a zen-like atmosphere.

This single pillar not only holds up the entire canopy, but it serves as a powerful waterfall and relief sculpture. The museum is gracefully designed to enhance and respect the sense of place created by the artifacts.  It is part of Mexico City's wonderful connectivity between the past and present. 

The entrance to the first gallery tells the story of man's evolution on the planet earth. 

The gallery spaces are spacious but not overwhelming, making for a enjoyable experience. 

The exhibition spaces are a wonderful link to the architecture and artifacts of past cultures. 

One of the many gardens that link the indoor galleries with outdoor spaces to create a unique museum experience. 

Found this Mayan mural when I stuck my head into one of the ruins spaces it covered all the walls and roof. I couldn't help but immediately think of Picasso's Guernica and how the early Mexican cultures foreshadowed many of the 19th and early 20th century European art practices.  

The upper floors of the museum showcase information on the diversity of indigenious cultures in different parts of Mexico. 

It was interesting to see this image, after encountering two young men wearing contemporary deer heads masks in the Zombie Walk. 

When you see an artifact like this you quickly make the connection to the iconic skull-like face paintings of the "Day of the Dead" festival. 

Found this one-eyed figure painted on a artifact and was stuck by how contemporary it was.  

  As an urbanist, this panel made me realize that Mexico City has centuries of architecture and urban design to build upon. I realized how infantile we are in Calgary. 

As an urbanist, this panel made me realize that Mexico City has centuries of architecture and urban design to build upon. I realized how infantile we are in Calgary. 

  This panel was enlightening as it illustrates how violence and war has been part of Mexico's (and many other nations') culture for thousands of years. It is very hard for Canadians to understand this. 

This panel was enlightening as it illustrates how violence and war has been part of Mexico's (and many other nations') culture for thousands of years. It is very hard for Canadians to understand this. 

Museo Soumaya

A private museum of Carlos Slim, one of the richest men in the world, it is named after his deceased wife Soumaya Domit, designed by his son-in-law Fernando Romero and engineered by Frank Gehry and Ove Arup.

The six-story building is an uber-contemporary design with its flat base (perched above the sidewalk) and roof anchoring a twisted tower that gives the building a tension and shape that defies description. The 16,000, shiny, hexagonal, aluminum tiles (supplied by a company owned by Slim) are like the skin of a snake.  Opened in 2011, the museum anchors the Nuevo Polanco district, which includes several other contemporary office, hotel and shopping centres including a modern Costco across the street.

Inside, you are greeted by a huge, stark white minimalist lobby that is home to just three artworks - murals by Mexico’s iconic artists Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo and the renowned sculpture “The Thinker” by Rodin. This is just the beginning of your exploration of the 66,000 pieces of art including the world’s largest collection of pre-Hispanic and colonial era coins.  If that isn’t enough to make you want to go, how about seeing the largest collection of casts of sculptures by Auguste Rodin outside of France. Its a “who’s who” of works by modern European artists like Dali, Picasso, Renoir, Miro, Monet, Matisse and van Gogh. 

The museum is easy to navigate thanks to ramps that wind their way up the side of the building, similar to Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The galleries are full of art and artifacts that appeal to all ages.

Admission: Free

Time: Give yourself at least two hours to explore the museum and another hour or so to explore the area’s architecture and shopping.  As well, Acuario Inbursa, one of the world’s top aquariums, is located across the street.

This museum is diametrically opposed to the Anthropology Museum as it shouts loudly -  "Look-At-Me" design.  

The shape and the facade skin make the building very photogenic. 

Inside the lobby and staircases are as cold as ice, which contrasts with Mexico's culture of warm and colourful artifacts and murals. 

The top floor sculpture gallery is a bit of a free-for-all of sculptures. 

  These dark powerful Rodins figures are centre piece of the gallery.

These dark powerful Rodins figures are centre piece of the gallery.

Dali's sculptures provide the comic relief. 

 The Palanco community around the museum is full of modern buildings that make for some interesting exploring.  Note the green wall on the right; this is one of many green walls in Mexico City, including one that covers the entire entrance wall of a parkade for probably 200 + feet. 

The Palanco community around the museum is full of modern buildings that make for some interesting exploring.  Note the green wall on the right; this is one of many green walls in Mexico City, including one that covers the entire entrance wall of a parkade for probably 200 + feet. 

Museo Nacional de Arte

An equestrian statue of Charles IV guards the entrance to the National Museum of modern Mexican art, which opened in 1982.  While the art is spectacular, the Ministry of Communications and Public Works building (completed in 1911) is the star of this show. In the words of my mother, “this museum is worth a visit for the building alone.” Our Eyewitness Travel book agrees, “Its double staircase, in bronze and marble, is enclosed by a semi-circular staircase, three stories high. The interior, with its intricate ironwork and many candelabra, is sumptuous.” We agree; we were in awe!

The artwork spans the time from 16th century to mid 20th century, with excellent examples of works by Mexico’s great muralists - Rivera, Siqueiros and Orozco. The collection of Mexican monumental religious paintings from the 16th to 19th centuries was a real eye-opener, never before appreciating the quality and depth of Mexican art. At points in our visit, we just had to sit and rest, as the art and architecture were overwhelming.

Admission: Free

Time: Minimum of 2 hours

 

The ornamentation of this building was spectacular. 

The three-floor spiraling stair case was jaw-dropping.

  Just one of the many ceiling paintings. They were truly heavenly!

Just one of the many ceiling paintings. They were truly heavenly!

The colour in this photograph is real, it was an assault to your senses. I will let the other images speak for themselves.

This is a painting of Mexico City in the 16th century. Not the lake and mountains in the distance.  Today the lake is gone and the city is climbing the mountains, severing as a reminder of how urban sprawl has existed from centuries, it is not a late 20th century phenomena. 

Diego Rivera, Zapatista Landscape, 1915

Jose Clemente Orozco, The Demagogue, 1947

David Alfaro Siqueiros, Self Portrait, 1945 (Could he be taking a selfie?) 

Ramon Alva de la Canal, The Cafe de Nadie, 1930

Museo de Arte Popular 

When flaneuring the hardware district, we happened upon this museum because of its cathedral-like, art deco building amongst a mish-mash of buildings with facades covered with gaudy signage.

The museum brings together folk art from all over Mexico, from traditional to contemporary pieces, representing the country’s cultural and geographical diversity.  The exhibition spaces and displays were world class.

The museum is best known as the sponsor of the yearly Noche de Alebrijes (Night of the Alebrijes) parade in which fantastical creatures are constructed on a monumental scale (some up to 25 ft high) and then paraded about 10km from the Zocalo to the Angel of Independence monument.  We missed the parade, but we did see the 200+ creatures on the street the next day, which made for a free, fun outdoor gallery experience.

A highlight of our visit to this museum visit was seeing a school tour of very excited junior high students who seemed to love everything about the museum.  Of course, my Mom had to chat with them and they were only too willing to practise their English.

Admission: 40 MX pesos, Free for seniors (over 60) and children under 13

Time:  1 hour (Don’t forget to stop into their lovely gift shop – great for souvenir hunters)

The streets surround the Popular Arts Museum are full of hundreds of small shops selling "Home Hardware" type goods, including the kitchen sink. 

The classic art deco building was originally the Fire Department Headquarters. 

The interior courtyard of the building has been glassed over to create a wonderful gallery space that looks like a modern South Beach Hotel. The colourful Alebrijes creatures in the distance bring the space alive in a fun folk-art manner. 

The windows in the courtyard were used to display items from the collection.  I loved the exquisite interaction of the reflections of the artifacts and architecture. 

The galleries were full of exhibitions of crafts of all kinds.  These devil creatures captured by imagination. 

The workmanship of the objects was outstanding. 

An image from the video of the Night of the Alebrijes Parade 

The Alebrijes creatures on parade on the sidewalk next to the Angel of Independence monument. 


Secretaria de Educacion Publica 

This museum is a hidden gem – it took a bit of searching to find it on our last day, but my Mom wouldn’t give up and I’m glad she didn’t as it has, in our opinion, the best collection of murals in Mexico City. Bonus – there was no line up (in fact, we had the entire place to ourselves).

This former convent, which dates back to 1639, has hundreds of Diego Rivera murals from 1923 to 1928, illustrating the diversity of his artistic practice and influences – Italian frescoes, cubism and pre-Columbian Mexico.  The ground floor is dedicated to the glorification of labour - rich colourful paintings and monochromatic portraits depicting scientific, artistic and intellectual pursuits.  On the staircase and second floor are a series of landscapes and state emblems from different parts of Mexico. The third floor showcases stories about the Revolution including one of his Rivera’s signature pieces “The Arsenal” where his wife, artist Frida Kahlo is shown handing out guns to the revolutionaries. It was a reminder of how much political revolution and violence has been part of Mexico’s history for centuries.

While most visitors line up to see the Palacio Nacional with its iconic murals, temporary exhibitions and gardens, our recommendation - if you are pressed for time - is to come here instead.

Admission: Free

Time: 2 hours

  The Arsenal, Diego Rivera

The Arsenal, Diego Rivera

Untitled, Diego Rivera

Untitled, Diego Rivera

All of the walls of the building are covered with murals each telling a story of the lives and rich history of Mexico.  

Wall Street Banquet, Diego Rivera

Capitalist Dinner, Diego Rivera

Agriculture, Diego Rivera

Untitled, Diego Rivera (Note the deer head on the shaman-like figure. Rivera was very interested in the ancient cultures of Mexico as he was the modern art of Europe). 

Museo Frida Kahlo

This Museum is the actual house where Frida Kahlo was born, lived most of her life, painted some of her best works and died.  Generally, not a big fan of famous peoples’ homes that have been turned into shrines, I was thus not impressed when we first arrived and had to line up.  We had been spoiled to this point of just walking into museums and having them pretty much to ourselves.

However, we got to chatting with some young people in line about our thoughts about Mexico City and their insights into what is it like living and growing up in Mexico City - the time did pass quickly. 

 The house and gardens where a delight to wander, even if it was too crowded for my liking.  The house was donated to the nation in 1955, by Kahlo’s husband Diego Rivera shortly after Kahlo died.  As you would expect, the home is full of Kahlo’s artwork, artifacts from her studio and everyday items and artifacts she collected.  This includes a lovely collection of small religious paintings on metal called Votive paintings, which interested me having purchased one for our art collection earlier in the week.  I also found the simple, cartoon-like, giant “Judas” figures made out of paper (later I learned these are burned on Easter Sunday as a symbolic destruction of evil) both playful and eerie. 

One of the surprises was the contemporary display of some of Kahlo’s dresses and personal belongings. Especially spooky was the black dark room featuring her corsets (in lighted glass cases) that she used to hide her body (it was disfigured by childhood polio and a near-fatal traffic accident that forced her to have over 30 operations, including a leg amputation in her later years).  It certainly added to the surrealistic experience, as did the lovely garden oasis – a sea of tranquility in a life of torment.

Admission: 120 MX pesos weekdays and 150 MX pesos weekend for adults; 40 MX pesos for post secondary students and 15 MX pesos for children and seniors

Time: 1 hour to tour the museum, but you should give yourself 30 minutes in the line-up (you can purchase tickets in advance). If time permits, the Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky is near by and/or the Coyoacain community which is full of cafes, shops and parks.

Kahlo's Museum had the best "Day of the Dead" altar that we found in Mexico City.

Kahlo's garden oasis. 

Like Rivera, Kahlo was interested in both past and present cultures. This was a display of her dresses. 

Kahlo elaborate corset

Kahlo's contemporary dresses

Surrealistic display of Kahlo's artifacts

There were dozens of Judas figures like this one scattered around the house. I chose this one as it seemed to relate to the suffering and hardship of broken body that Kahlo experienced in her life. 

Museo del Juguete Antiguo Mexico (Toy Museum) 

Located in the heart of the Doctores neighbourhood, this museum, located in a five-story office building, is definitely off the beaten path.  However, for urban explorers and those who love toys, it is a “must see.” In fact, it is more like an antique or flea market than a museum as there are no fancy display cases, no labels with titles, dates and artists’ names, no information panels and no security guards. In fact, the main floor sells toys that could easily be extras from the museum – you will not confuse it with a typical gift shop.

The museum was started by Roberto Shimizu, a Mexican of Japanese descent, who began to hoard every toy he could get his hands on since the age of 10.  Most of the 20,000+ toys, games, dolls etc. date back to mid-20th century.  One of the highlights for me was the small peddle-cars. Backstory: My Mom tells me I loved my peddle-car so much they had to replace the tires!

The museum is absolutely chockablock full of toys, piled up everywhere, making you have to step over and around them in this hoarder’s dream. There is a “thrill of the hunt” atmosphere to the museum with lots of smiles and giggles from parents and children.

Admission: 50 MX pesos per person

Time: Give yourself about 1.5 hours depending on how much you are into toys and nostalgia.  There is not a lot else to see and do in the vicinity of the museum.

Mexico's Toy Museum office block. 

Walt Disney fun.

What would a toy museum be without truck and planes. 

  The museum is full of vignettes like this one of small toy people. 

The museum is full of vignettes like this one of small toy people. 

There are many home-made toys and displays like this one.  Note how the inside is filled with figures. 

One of about 10 pedal cars. 

I wish I had one of these as a kid...it might have changed my life. 

Every toy museum must have toy soldiers. 

The museum is full of fun displays like this one of yo-yos. 

This flying saucer fill of robot vignettes was perhaps my favourite piece. 

Last Word

I was constantly amazed during my adventure in Mexico City how their contemporary culture still seems to evolve around evil, death, religion and spirituality. It made visiting the museums seem more relevant and authentic, with the strong connectivity between past and present in Mexico City.

Hot Tips

You could easily plan a 7-day vacation in Mexico City just around visiting these seven museums.  Be aware too that many of the museums are free on Sundays for Mexicans so they can be quite busy and distract from the experience, so we suggest choosing a less popular museum on Sundays if possible. Also, many museums are closed on Mondays, an exception being the Museo Soumaya (open Mondays and closed Tuesdays) making it a good destination for a Monday adventure.

If you like this blog, you might like: 

The Dirt on the Museum of Clean

Museums of Memphis

Postcards from Musical Instruments Museum

Florence: People & Places (a photo essay)

This photo blog focuses on the offbeat people and places we encountered over 12 wonderful days of flaneuring in Florence in the Fall of 2014. It was an enchanting experience, from my favourite gelato shop waitress, to the husband and wife seamstress half a block down the street from our apartment who spoke no English, yet managed to help me find a new handmade belt. In between are photos from thrift stores to boutiques, galleries to street art, markets to churches, parking to cycling, fashion to food.

In reviewing, my photos I noticed there were two major differences from our Dublin experience.  One being the number of seniors in the streets of Florence and the second being the centuries of urban design that create a wonderful array of textures and light in its City Centre. 

We hope you will enjoy the photos and would love to hear which ones are your favourites.

If you want to see more photos and stories about our Florence adventures, click on the links below:

Window licking along Florence’s Via Tornabuoni

Florence BFFs: Best Flaneur Finds

One Night in Florence

The ugliest pedestrian bridge in the world?

Flaneuring Florence’s Markets: Flea, Food & Fashion

Public Art: Calgary / Florence / Rome

 

Busking with style.

Salvador Dali's Bike?

No wonder Picasso painted faces as he did!

Just one of many very stylish parking garages.

A Florence office building?

Lots of open doors...

I wish I could read Italian.

A work of art and very tasty! 

Magritte would have loved this photo.

Ghost busker....

Sisters sharing donuts?

Instead of tree lined streets, Florence has motorcycle lined ones. 

Would you drink out of this street fountain? Supposedly you can.

Obviously I am not the only one taking a photo of this intriguing reflection. 

My fashionista advisor. 

Florence comes alive at night. 

What was he thinking/feeling to create this drawing? 

Art is everywhere in Florence, yet there is very contemporary little public art. 

Market madness...

There is no lack of empty shoe boxes in Florence. 

Florence's finest were there to greet us when we arrived.

These ladies were moving quickly. 

Fountain of youth?

Window licking anyone?

No line up at the Marino Marini Museum...we liked that!

Once you get to the edge of the City Centre, the streets are much less crowded.

Cars, bikes, scooters and pedestrians share the road.

It was hard to go to sleep after discovering this church was open on one of our nightly walkabouts. 

Blue Man Group?

Does it get any better than this? Taken from a balcony restaurant at lunch.

Small space, narrow places...smaller is better?

People watching fun!

Innocence?

Climbing the wall fun.

Elvis? 

Fashionistas heading to the thrift store. 

Who needs wide sidewalks? enhanced streetscapes? 

My other fashionista advisor.

Who needs a car to carry a lamp home? 

Iceberg soup!

Everyone is out for their evening stroll.

That is a mighty big steak?

No dedicated bike lane? No problem? 

Fashionista at the world's most amazing thrift store. 

Now that is a tight parking spot.

This photo is not upside down.

Self serve wine - how good is that!

Calgary's Trans Canada Highway Motel History

This week I received a second “everyday tourist” care package from my third cousin Sally in Los Angeles. In it were more historical Calgary postcards she hunted down at the Vintage Paper Fair, in Glendale, California. This time (last time it was a vintage CANADA Vacations Unlimited magazine from 1951), her big find was a bunch of postcards of Calgary’s mid-century motels, which coincidentally were mostly along the Trans Canada Highway (aka 16th Avenue N) near 19th Street – just blocks from where I live.

It was 1962 when the Trans Canada Highway opened and in Calgary, it went right through the City’s northern inner-city communities.   While today the urban planning buzz term is “urban village,” back in the ‘50s and ‘60s Calgary was famous for its “motel villages” both along the Trans Canada Highway (between 19th and 24th Streets NW, aka Crowchild Trail) long before the University of Calgary existed and the other in Montgomery (between 43rd to 46th St. NW) which didn’t amalgamate with the City of Calgary until 1963. 

After 50+ years, a few of the modest old motels from the middle of the 20th century still exist, although most have had a facelift or two.  Names like Red Carpet Inn, Thriftlodge, Days Inn, and Traveller’s Inn dot the streetscape along the Trans Canada highway in Montgomery. While the Motel Village next to McMahon Stadium includes names like Super 8, Travelodge, Thriftlodge and EconoLodge, as well as hotel brands like Best Western, Hamptons and Ramada.  There is even a funky boutique hotel – Aloft.  However, the classic mid-century modern motels like the Mount Eisenhower Motor Court, the Highlander Motor Hotel and the Cavalier Motel are gone - survived only by these postcards.

The Highlander Motor Hotel located on the Trans Canada Highway at 17th St NW provides ideal connections to Downtown, a multi-million dollar Shopping Centre, Jubilee Auditorium, McMahon Stadium and The University.  Today it is the site of the Home Depot. 

Calgary North, Travel Lodge, 2304 16th Ave NW. Bus at the door.Your Hosts: Ed and Carol Sandor (A member of the world's largest network of hotel). 

The Cavalier Motel, 2304 - 16th Ave NW. The essence of luxury - 50 modern units, equipped with televisions and telephones. Large heated swimming pool, adjoining restaurants, close to the largest shopping centre on the Trans Canada Highway i.e. North Hill Shopping Centre. Yes, the North Hill Shopping Center opened in 1958 and it was not only Calgary's first shopping center, but the largest along the entire Trans Canada Highway. 

Mount Eisenhower Motor Court, 2227 Banff Trail, 20 new units, modern AMA & AAA approved.

Importance of 16th Avenue North

If you drive or even a walk along the Trans Canada Highway today, you still see bits of evidence of how this was once Calgary’s most important vehicular street, long before the Deerfoot, Glenmore and Crowchild Trails or Memorial Drive.  It was, and still is, the gateway to Calgary’s first post-secondary campus – Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT).

At one point, it was also the gateway to the Calgary Airport located in Renfrew.  The historic Rutledge Hangar (731 – 13th Ave NE), built in 1929, is the only building remaining from Calgary’s first publicly operated airport, commonly known as the Stanley Jones Airport.  It was the first airport in Canada to install runway lights to facilitate twilight landings. It was also home to a short-lived airmail service for the Prairies and served as a training site for the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War Two.  

In addition, to small retail shops and restaurants all along 16th Avenue North, it was the gateway to Calgary's first shopping center - North Hill Shopping Centre in 1958. Calgary’s iconic Peters’ Drive-In (219-16th Ave NE) located on the Trans Canada Highway is another testimonial to 16th Avenue’s mid-century, automobile-oriented history.  Today you will still find numerous Tire, car parts and oil change shops along 16th Avenue. 

Banff Trail Motel is typical of the many modest motels that use to exist all along 16th Avenue North in the mid-20th century. 

Trans Canada Highway at Motel Village looking east with the SAIT residence in the background.

Calgary's Motel Village today is a hub of low-rise motels, an office building and 10+ restaurants. It is walking distance to the University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology campus.  It is adjacent to a LRT Station that is just 5 minutes from downtown. 

Other Mid-century Motels

In downtown, while the Palliser Hotel adjacent to Canadian Pacific Railway Station was the City’s signature hotel, the Caravan Motor Hotel with its Steak and Rib House (4th Ave and 4th Street SW) touted itself as Calgary’s finest downtown motor hotel, only three minutes from the city centre. Another reminder of just how much our city has changed over the past five decades.

But for me, the best postcard was of the Bow River Motel (103, 24th Street NW aka Crowchild Trail).  On the back was their motto “It is quiet by the river” and the phone # AT 3-0777.  It was a reminder that not that long ago Crowchild Trail was a tranquil dirt road with no sidewalks and lined with small businesses and homes… a far cry from the speedway with bland, concrete sound barriers that it is today.

Caravan Motor Hotel and Steak and Rib House, 89 ultra modern units, completely air-conditioned, each room thermostatically controlled. TV, Hi Fi, Radio. Complete room service. 

 Bow River Motel, 103, 24th St. NW (aka Crowchild Trail). Note the road looks like it is still dirt and there are no trees or sidewalks. This was the edge of the city in the '50s. 

Bow River Motel, 103, 24th St. NW (aka Crowchild Trail). Note the road looks like it is still dirt and there are no trees or sidewalks. This was the edge of the city in the '50s. 

Last Word

I couldn’t help but wonder if 16th Avenue North hadn’t become the Trans Canada Highway in the ‘60s, would have it evolved into a more pedestrian-oriented, retail street like 17th Avenue South. Just wondering.

If you like this blog, you might like these:

Flaneuring the Trans Canada Highway

CANADA Vacations Unlimited 1951 (Part 1)

CANADA Vacations Unlimited 1951 (Part 2)

Calgary: History Capital of Canada

 

Dublin Revisited In 36 photographs!

A year ago we were flaneuring the streets, pubs, museums and shops of Dublin, Ireland. As all good “everyday tourists” do on their one-year anniversary of a trip, I reviewed my collection of photos and revisited the many great memories of Dublin. 

Also this week, I received a lot of positive feedback from my Summer Sunlight photo-essay blog so I thought it would be fun to do a photo-only blog of Dublin.  I have picked 36 photos (there is no magic in the number) that cover everything from art to architecture, food to fashion, parks to plazas and of course beer and pubs.

In no particular order, the photos are in true flaneur-like fashion.  Let the photos aimlessly take you on an off-the-beaten path stroll of Dublin. 

If you want to know more about our Dublin adventures you can check out the links for learn more about the city, its people and places:

Dublin: FAB fun in The Libertines

Dublin: Newman University Church a hidden gem

Dublin vs. Calgary /Apples vs. Oranges

Dublin: St. Stephen’s Green vs. St. Patrick’s Cathedral Park

Dublin’s Chester Beatty Library – Look but don’t touch

Dublin: Iconic barracks makes for great museum

Everyday Tourist goes to gaol!

Parks: Calgary vs. Dublin/Florence/Rome

the poor
pillars

A Staycation with a Twist Francais

As “everyday tourists” we are always looking for creative ways to have a tourist experiences even when we are at home in Calgary.  Recently, friends invited us to join them for dinner at Fleur de Sel, an established Parisian-style restaurant in Calgary’s trendy Mission district.  Of course we said “yes,” but what we didn’t anticipate was how the dinner would bring back vivid memories of our past trips to Paris and Lyon.  

Charming Fleur de Sel restaurant in Calgary's tony Mission district.

As soon as we walked into Fleur de Sel, we were immediately reminded of the charm of Paris bistros.  Upon looking at the menu, I noticed one of the items was cassoulet, a traditional peasant dish of meat and beans that is popular in Lyon. This immediately conjured up memories of one evening in Lyon, France ironically with the same friends.

One of our best meals was a cassoulet dinner in an off-the-beaten path old house that had been a bouchon for over 200 years. Not only was the cassoulet excellent, but they also offered us a couple of free brochette de quenelles they had made for the early seating and wouldn’t keep for the second seating.

I finished the meal off with a flourless chocolate cake that was perhaps the most decadent dessert I have ever tasted. My mouth waters even now thinking about it! 

Decadent flourless chocolate cake in Lyon, France.

The memories didn’t end there as we quickly all recalled that special night didn’t end with the meal.  While walking back to our hotel, we heard some music a few blocks away, so decided to head in that direction. Stopping to listen outside the church, someone came out and invited us to come in. It was truly magical to experience - centuries old music in a centuries old church. 

Listening outside historic church in Lyon.

The quaint Hotel de Champe de Mars

As the recent evening’s discussion continued, it centered mostly around our other visits to France including our first visit as travel neophytes.  For that trip, we were given us a copy of the Wine Spectator with a feature on Paris by Richard Harvey of Calgary’s Metrovino wine store to help us plan out trip.  As a result, we found ourselves in the tiny tony Champ d’ Mars Hotel across from the iconic Marie-Anne Cantin cheese shop and down the street from the Rue Cler pedestrian mall. We couldn’t have been luckier for our first trip to Paris at Christmas. 

Rue Cler is one of the best pedestrian streets not only in Paris, but in the world. At Christmas it is simply magical.

One of the fondest memories of that visit was dinner at a nearby restaurant recommended in the Wine Spectator feature.  We went by earlier in day to make a reservation to learn there had just been a cancellation (otherwise we’d have been out of luck). 

We came back for dinner and the place was an amazing buzz of conversation.  We quickly realized we were the only tourists in the place.  After asking a few questions (clearly showing our naiveté) our server asked, “Can I just look after you?” We said “yes!” And we are glad we did.  

Food and wine just kept coming out from the kitchen and we just kept eating and smiling.  Turns out this husband and wife-owned restaurant was only open three days a week and is always full weeks in advance.  We even got to see their two children who lived upstairs and came downstairs to say good night.  It is a memory etched in our memories.

Back to Calgary

As the dinner at Fleur de Sel continued, it became much more like our Paris dinner experience as the server knew our dinner mates well and they chatted like old friends, just like in the Paris bistro. 

But perhaps the highlight of the night came near the end of the evening. All of a sudden, the sound system blasted Marilyn Munro singing Happy Birthday and disco lights floating around the room.  Soon our server came rushing in with a chocolate-dipped strawberry speared by a birthday candle, complete with a sparkler and three balloons.  He quickly put down the strawberry, broke the balloons, the sparkler fizzled out and the song was over.  The fun pop-up birthday party was all over before we really knew what was happening.  What first I thought it was pretty kitschy, really was a fun celebration. 

  Happy Birthday Surprise!

Happy Birthday Surprise!

Last Word

While a trip to your local French restaurant won’t replace a trip to France, it can be a great way rekindle the memories of past trips to France.  You can do the same thing by checking out your local authentic Mexican Italian, Turkish, Vietnam, Ukrainian or other favourite ethnic restaurants.  

Similarly, a night out at the theatre might be the catalyst to evoke memories of a trip to New York and an off off Broadway play. Or, a trip to a museum or art gallery might be the stimulus to recall a trip to London or Frankfurt.

Whatever you choose, it could add a whole new dimension to “staycation.” 

We even got doggie boxes to take home and enjoy the next day.  Gotta love the FUN and CREATIVE packaging. 

If you like this blog, click on these links: 

Window licking in Paris

Lyons Sidewalk Ballet

Adapt or die? 

CANADA Vacations Unlimited 1951 (Part 2)

In Part 1, of CANADA Vacations Unlimited magazine looked looked at the first 20-pages of a 50-page magazine produced by the Canadian Government Travel Bureau in 1951 to entice Americans to visit Canada that was devoted to profile its Provinces.  Part 2 will summarize how the magazine promoted the "things to see and do" in Canada for tourist. I hope you will find it as enlightening and entertaining as I did. 

National Parks

The two-page spread on the National Parks of Canada includes photos of golfing in Banff National Park, trail riding in Riding Mountain National Park, fishing in Fundy National Park, lawn bowling in Prince Edward National Park, alpine meadows in Yoho National Park, Highland Games in Cape Breton National Park and a painter in Jasper National Park. 

Taking photos of wildlife at close range seems to be encouraged, “The animals, which have learned man will not harm them within the parks, have become astonishingly tame often approaching humans within a few yards…bighorn sheep allow visitors within camera range.” Yikes!

Canada’s Vacation Highways

A three-page spread promotes “Canada’s 150,000 miles of highways ranging from two-lane, crushed stone country roads to the four-lane, boulevarded super-highway.  There is scant danger of being stranded in Canada because of mechanical breakdown. Service stations and repair garages are plentiful and all popular U.S and British automobile makers maintain dealer units and parts depots across Canada.”

Photos include a couple eating at a roadside picnic table by the St. Lawrence River, a mounted police officer chatting with another couple in their red convertible in downtown Montreal and Niagara Falls, the “Honeymoon Haven” as well as Hope-Princeton highway and roads in Rockies and Laurentians, Atlantic inlet, Alaska Highway, St. John River and Gaspe Peninsula.

Fishing

The two-page spread on fishing features images with tags like: “Battling bass from historic streams,” “the battle is over for this Atlantic Salmon,” the fishing’s as exciting as the scenery,” “they grow ‘em big in prairie lakes,” “you can even cast from the highway” and “the morning’s catch sizzling in the pan.”

Canoeing and Camping

Canoeing and camping also gets a two-page spread with photo captions like: “shaving in cold water really isn’t so bad,” “somehow the food seems better outdoors” and my favourite “careful with that axe, Daddy.”

Swim and Relax

Yes, that is the title of a two-page spread about Canada having more than half the world’s fresh water offering visitors “sun-drenched sand, cool breezes and crystal-clear lakes and rivers.” The text ends with “Yes, there’s good reason why, in the season of sweltering heat, thousands of vacationers head north each summer to Canada, land of air-conditioning sunshine.”

I loved the photo of the Saskatchewan beach with a two parents and what looks like five kids with a canoe, inner tube and boat with the caption “small fry enjoying themselves.” But the best one - “cooling one’s heels is fun, this way!” referring to three bikini clad girls sitting on a rock ledge of small water falls dangling their feet in the rushing water alongside a young man ready to jump into the water.

Cruise Time

I never thought of Canada as a major cruise travel destination, but two-pages of the magazine pitch vacation cruising on Ontario’s Muskoka Lakes, speed boating in the Eastern Townships, cruising in Banff National Park, sailing off the coast of British Columbia and an inland steamer in BC. It also notes that Canadian yacht clubs extend a welcome to visiting U.S. yachtsman.  

Roughing it in Canada

This two-page spread covers everything from an Alpine Club of Canada hike and rock climbing in the Canadian Rockies to horseback riding and cycling. Did you know that “many Canadian resorts have saddle horses for their guests?”

Scenic Transportation

“By air, by land, by sea” reads the byline with images of “modern buses ply through the Laurentian area of Quebec, a Trans-Canada Air Lines plane wings its way over quiet Ontario countryside, Canada National Steamships vessel at Skagway, CPR train winds through Kicking Horse Pass” as well as cruise steamer on Saguenay River and Canadian Pacific steamer passing below the Lions’ Gate Bridge in Vancouver.”

Golf, Tennis, Winter Sports

One and a half pages are devoted to golf in this four-page section. One photo caption reading “Bing Crosby putts it out on the course at Jasper during the annual Totem Pole Tournament.”  Interesting factoids include a reference to “Canada’s northland” where the most northerly golf course in the Western Hemisphere - at Pangnirtung on Baffin Island with eight members and at “Yellowknife the clubhouse is a crashed B-29 aircraft, which proved too difficult to haul out of the wild.” 

Skiing is the only winter sport promoted. Skiing in in Canada is described as, “There’s Scandinavian-style skiing in Eastern Canada and the dashing Alpine kind in the West, each with plenty of accommodation comfort close at hand.”

Golf Tennis

Shrines and Historic Sites

The photo collage that accompanies this two-page feature includes Fort Ste. Marie (Midland, Ontario) restoration, Port Royal Habitation (Nova Scotia), Lower Fort Garry (Winnipeg), Brother Andre’s shrine (Montreal), Christ Church Cathedral (Fredericton), Ste. Anne de Beaupre (Quebec City), Old Fort Henry (Kingston), Fort Lennox Ile au Noix (Quebec), Fort Chambly (Montreal) and St. Andrew’s Church (Lockport, Manitoba).

Shopping

Can you believe shopping warrants only one page and the last page at that! “Part of the thrill of a Canadian vacation is shopping for native handicrafts…so many delightful ‘different’ things in Canadian stores…wood carving, hooked picture rugs, Indian beaded jackets and moccasins. It’s easy to find the Canadian handicrafts on display outside Canadian farms and village homes…and gracing the counters of many tourist courts and villas.” 

There is no mention of department stores like Hudson Bay Company and Eaton’s or specialty shops like Birks.

Mother Knows Best!

I emailed a draft of this blog to my Mom (who has lived all 80+ years of her life in Hamilton, Ontario, but who in her later years has visited the capital cities of all the Provinces and Territories except for Iqaluit, Nunavut) for her insights and thoughts on the magazine and my reaction.

Her comments were, “that is exactly what Canada was like in 1951.Toronto was hardly known, Montreal was the only city in Canada with any international awareness….the West was almost unheard of even in Ontario. We did know the Maritimes though.  There wasn’t anything on cities because there wasn’t really much to see in the cities then. Hard for you to understand in 1951, we were still an unknown country and Americans did not visit except for the cities along the border – maybe.”

This made me think she is right. I remember her and my Dad telling me stories about how young couple from Hamilton and Southern Ontario headed to Buffalo, not Toronto, if they wanted a fun weekend of dancing and drinking in the late ‘40s and ‘50s.

Last Word 

I defer to her for this blog’s Last Word, her email response ended with,  “This magazine sure has been an eye opener for you, as it will be for most of your readers.”

If you like this blog, you might like:

CANADA Vacations Unlimited 1951 (Part 2) 

Cities of opportunity: Calgary/Hamilton 

Understanding Calgary's DNA

Stampede 2015: Have we lost that luv'n feeling?

On Saturday (July 4th), I thought I’d head downtown and check out what is new this year in terms of Stampede window cartoons and other street decorations.  I thought the cartoon art would add a whole new dimension to the “window licking art” I love so much.  

I realize some of the art purists or high-art nerds don’t think of it as art, but the Stampede graphics add a sense of fun and colour to our otherwise contrived conservative corporate downtown.

While there was some great windows (see photos below). I also found lots of street fronts on Stephen Avenue Walk disappointing?  I was thinking places like Sports Chek (Calgary based) and Winners (has been located on Stephen Avenue for years) would do a better job of dressing-up their windows – No!

Looks like just another Saturday at Winners on Stephen Avenue Walk.

Hys, Brook Brothers and Holts seemed to forget entirely that the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” was happening. The Stephen Avenue entrance to The Core showed no evidence of Stampede spirit. 

 

Where's The Stampede Spirit?

The Hyatt had nothing; same with Marriott on 9th Avenue.  The Glenbow, Convention Centre and Calgary Economic Development also showed no Stampede spirit. Even the Municipal Plaza had no real evidence of Stampede, unless you count the one window painting at the Municipal Building. Neither the Central Library, nor the Simmons Building in East Village had any Stampede spirit. 

Entrance to the Hyatt on Stephen Avenue, not even a hay bale?

Hard to believe Calgary Telus Convention Centre on Stephen Avenue could look this sterile during Stampede. 

The Marriott Hotel facing 9th Avenue doesn't exactly shout out "Stampede!" 

Where's the spirit? Where's the energy? Calgary Economic Development block shows no sign of Stampede spirit, or a sense of energy? 

Interesting, the Calgary Tower had a painting that said Yee Haw…I am pretty sure the Stampede cry is - Yahoo! 

Not only did the Simmons Building have no Stampede decorations, you couldn't even get an adult beverage at 3 pm.  What's with that?

I get there is a downturn in the economy, but this was a sad statement on our Stampede Spirit. Walking by the McDougall Centre on the way home, all they had was one small banner of Stampede flags across the entrance. 

Except for three blocks of Stephen Avenue Walk, our downtown looked deserted as it usually does on a weekend.  I seem to recall in the past most of the buildings and +15 bridges had stampede windows. Not this year - you would be hard pressed to know that Stampede was even happening. 

The Good Guys!

David's Tea I thought had one of the best windows.

Office lobby reflections create attractive Stampede streetscape.

I was surprise how few +15 bridges had window paintings in them this year. 

Most of the banks downtown were good at decorating their window with kitschy cartoons. 

Is that Ralph Klein on the window of the City Hall LRT Station?

Last Word

Has Calgary become too big for it britches to celebrate what is truly one of North America’s oldest, largest and most unique festivals?  Where is that community spirit?

If you like this blog you might like: 

Stampede Park: Art Gallery/Museum

Stampede 2014: Footnotes

Redwood Reflections

While wandering onto the 6th green at Redwood Meadows golf course some reflections caught my eye in the pond next to the green.

I putted out, but the reflections continued to haunt me.  Given we were a twosome and nobody was behind us, I quickly walked into the wooded area next to the pond to take a closer look.  The mid-morning spring sunlight that filtered through the trees and onto the water was both playful and magical.

In a matter of seconds, my mindset changed from golfer to artist. I have always been intrigued by the elements of abstraction that exists in nature and in our everyday world.  I love the interplay of eye and the mind in how we see the world. 

For the rest of the round I had my iPhone out almost as much as my driver and putter, looking for other reflections and nature’s everyday artworks. 

Upon getting home I wondered what the images would look like in black and white. The results were eerie, ereathral and exquisite.

Regular “Everyday Tourist” readers know I am fascinated by reflections, be they the multi-layered reflections in shop windows along a street or the abstractions and distortions created in the multi-planed office towers.

It has been said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.”  I am thinking, “Golf is a good walk for reflecting.” 

I will let the photos speak for themselves. Comments are always welcomed.

totoem

PS.

Yes I did par the next hole (one of the most difficult on the course) and I had my usual combination for pars, birdies and double birdies for the rest of the round. Who says you have to stay focused to play golf?  

If you like this blog, click on these links for similar blogs: 

Downtown YYC: Paint It Black

Iconic Canadian art hidden in office lobby

Window licking along Florence's Via Tornabuoni

Window Licking in Seattle

For me, one of the fun things to do when visiting another city is to check out the reflections of streetscapes in windows. I first discovered this obsession (yes, I think it has become a bit of an obsession) when visiting Paris where many of the storefront windows are like mini art exhibitions.  You might expect this given the Paris' fashion culture, but it was more than just upscale shoes and purses, it was the juxtaposition of the people, architecture and the sense of spontaneity and surprise.  

What was also interesting in Paris were the great windows weren't just on the retail streets, but also in the little shops in the residential neighbourhoods.

Let me out....

Picture perfect? 

Why window licking? 

Some might just call this "window shopping,” but in French window shopping is called it "faire du leche-vitines," which literally translates into “window licking” in English. Since Paris, I have made sure that in every city I visit, I spend some time "window licking."

While it is not measurable, I am convinced there is a direct correlation between the quality of the street windows and the quality of the street life.  Unfortunately today, too many retailers and others with street windows don't appreciate the importance of great windows in making people stop, look and think.

Our recent trip to Seattle provided me with some great "window licking" experiences. Not only was downtown Seattle populated with some interesting windows, but so were the the neighbouring communities like Pioneer Square that offered some great surprises.  But the best window licking was along Ballard Avenue, i.e. main street for the community of Ballard. 

This is downtown Ballard when the Sunday market takes over its main street. It is a great people watching experience and has some of the best windows in Seattle.

Window licking in Pioneer Square.

It wouldn't be Seattle without some glass art window licking.

Last Word

While Richard Florida has coined the terms  Bohemian Index, Diversity Index and Gay Index as a way of measuring the health of a community, I am thinking he might want to look at the "Window Licking Index."  This index would look at how often and long people stop and look in the windows along a given street, as a measure of the street's attractiveness to pedestrians. 

Intuitively, I'd probably give Seattle an 8.5 out of ten on my "Window Licking" index.  Have a look at these some more samples and the links to window licking in Paris, Chicago and Florence and let me know what images you like best.

PS. In reviewing my window licking images I realized that almost everyone has trees in it.  One of the first things I noticed about Seattle and loved about the city's streets was the wonderful filtered light from the canopy of wonderful trees. 

Surrealism is a frequent theme in window licking art.

Luxury fashion shops are always good for window licking photos.

The classic mannequin historical building window.

This is perhaps the most unique window I have experience to date. 

If you like this blog, click on these links to other window licking blogs:

Window licking In Paris

Window licking in Chicago 

Window licking along Florence's Via Tornabuoni

 

 

 

Port Angeles: The World's Best Art Park?

Officially it is called Webster’s Woods Art Park (WWAP), but in many ways, it is a forest or art trail.  Regardless, it is definitely not like any art park I have ever seen before - in person or on the Internet. The five-acre park, with its 125 artworks located on a hill just a 20-minute walk from downtown Port Angles is arguably the best art park in North America and maybe the world. It is definitely a hidden gem!

 No joke. Just a few days earlier, we were in Seattle enjoying and marvelling at their Olympic Park with its mega iconic sculptures by world-renowned artists but it didn’t come close to engaging us visually, mentally and physically, as did WWAP.  Nor did it take us two hours to explore, or get us as excited by the constant joy of discovery.

I will let the photos and art speak for themselves.

WWAP is a heavily forested (almost rain forest-like) park with rustic, root-infested trails overgrown with ground cover; this is no walk in the park. And though there is an open meadow area that makes for a more conventional art park, the majority of the park is up and down for the most part gentle hills that do however require some tricky footwork. This is not a groomed park with static artworks but a living artwork that changes with the seasons.  For those of you familiar with Calgary, it would be like transforming the Douglas Fir Trail into an art park.  Hey – that a good idea!

It certainly appealed to our love of treasure hunting. As you walk gingerly along the narrow trails you have to constantly keep your eyes looking up, down and all around to “find” the unmarked art.  Most of the art is well integrated into nature, so you really have to look. Over the years, some become overgrown by nature, merely adding to the integration of art and nature.

The aesthetic experience doesn’t end with the man-made artworks.  The quality of the light filtered by the trees and vegetation is mesmerizing. The shapes of the living and dead vegetation create their own art forms.  The synergy is exhilarating.

Forest canopy

With few labels and information panels and no maps; this is not a pretentious art park that thinks it is a museum.  Nobody is trying to impress you with a “who’s who” of public artists.  The artworks range from decorative, to whimsical and from political to social commentary, some are very clever, while others are kitschy.

The park is open daylight hours year round and is free, as is the Port Angeles Art Centre, a contemporary house that offers intimate exhibitions, a small gift shop and restrooms. Spend 30 minutes or 3 hours here, it will appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds.  However, you will need good footwear and the ability to climb uneven trails.

 

Where to stay?

The Port Angeles Red Lion Hotel is well situated and centrally located l right on the waterfront. Get a room on the harbour side and you can watch the boats and ferry come and go. Book a bike (they rent them and the first hour is free to ride up WWAP or along the waterfront trail.

You can also easily explore historic downtown Port Angeles with its murals, sculptures, shops and eateries on foot from the Red Lion.

Red Lion Hotel, Port Angeles, Washington on the water's edge.

Mac's Mural is dedicated to H. Mac Ruddell, past president of the NorWester Rotary Club of Port Angeles, for his vision, energy and enthusiasm, which made the NorWester Rotary Mural project a reality. This mural is of the art deco Black Ball Ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria. 

We thought the art centre was in the concrete circular building at first but then realized that you have to walk into the Fine Arts Centre and as you do you begin to discover the art and the trails. 

Irish Golf: The Good, The Bad, The Bold, The Beer, The Beauty

Irish Golf

When my Redwood Meadows golf buddies told me that one of their curling buddies had hooked up with Suneel Seetal of Seetal Golf Tours in Dublin who was organizing a 12-day, nine-round golf trip to Ireland, I immediately said I was “in”. Seven years since my Scotland golf trip and my bruises having disappeared, I was ready for another crack at those irksome links courses.  

My biggest decision was whether to take my own clubs or not. That’s because I decided to extend my Irish golf trip and make it a six-week European adventure. I didn’t want to haul golf clubs that whole time.

Luckily, one of my golf buddies, (“sly grey fox”) told me about ClubsToHire. Sure enough, I could rent clubs and a bag for the entire tour. The clubs would be waiting for me at the airport when I arrived and I could drop them off at the airport when I was done. How easy is that? And, the cost was reasonable - 40 to 60 Euros per week depending on the clubs you choose amongst their selection of top name brands. Just pack your balls and shoes and you are ready to play.  Bonus - I saved the extra luggage costs on the plane and the hassle of hauling a large oversized golf travel bag on trains, planes and automobiles.

I chose the RBZ TaylorMade set with graphite-shafted irons, thinking that it might be time to switch from steel to graphite.  I loved the irons; they seemed much more forgiving, longer and my back and shoulders hurt less than they did all summer, even thought I was walking more difficult terrain than my home course (sometime it seemed more like mountain climbing), carrying my clubs on my back rather than the push cart I used all summer.  Definitely ClubsToHire was a great decision.

My ClubsToHire are ready for the tour.

Now, On with the Tour…

Here is my summary of the good, the bad, the bold and the beauty of the courses in the order we played them, along with some pub fun.

Enniscrone Golf Club

Founded in 1918 as a nine-hole course, Enniscrone, located on the west coast of Ireland in the County of Sligo next to Kilala Bay at the mouth of the River Moy, became a dramatic championship course in 1974.   The 7,300 yard, par 73 course plays hard (especially if you are from Calgary and are use to playing at an altitude of 3,438 ft) with lots of long carries over the shaggy towering windswept seaside dunes and blind shots.  The last four holes along the Atlantic Ocean are challenging and stunning.  Holes 12, 13 or 14 all vie as Enniscrone’s signature holes.

The one negative - there is no driving range, very problematic for me as I really wanted a chance to test my rentals on the range before playing.

Enniscrone has been called the Ballybunion of the west coast.  The course is well maintained and the greens are as challenging as you will find anywhere, but they do putt true.  This course should be on your “must golf” list if you are going to the West Coast.

We knew this was going to get bad when we saw the grass between the first green and second tee box.

It is a long carry to the fairway, but the vista was beautiful.

The dog legs and elevated greens make for some blind and bold shot making. 

it is a bad idea to miss the green.

Carne Golf Links

If you are into off-the-beaten path golf courses, Carne Golf Links is the place for you (from some of the tee boxes, you would think you could see Newfoundland).  This wild and natural course with the largest sand dunes I have ever seen (the size of small office towers) is the swan song of the late Eddie Hackett and in his opinion “there will be no better links course in the country.”  The course looks like Hackett decided there was no need to do much design, so he just carved out the fairways and created 18 greens as the lunar landscape has barely been altered. It is hard to believe this course only opened in 1993.

The golf course wasn’t in the best of shape when we played in early fall and we also found signage to the next tee box poor, especially where there was some construction. But it did produce my most memorable shot - I sliced my drive (no surprise there) onto the side of a monster sand dune and thought I’d never find my ball, but lucky me, there it was sitting up on some tramped down grass (obviously I wasn’t the first person to hit a ball here) and so I had a shot. I had to choke down to the bottom of my grip as the ball was going to be about waist high. I hit what I thought was a perfect shot over the dune to the fairway and maybe even the green. No such luck; we never found the ball – ah, the joys and sorrows of golfing Ireland.

You have to be really into golf to come to Carne as there is nothing else there - no shops, no restaurants, no museums, just you and the course.  This 6,690-yard course is merciless with its elevation changes, wind, doglegs around the dunes, elevated greens and tees and of course those undulating greens (a three-putt being the norm).

There is also a new 9-hole course called Kilmore that opened in 2013 and has been called the best 9-hole course in Ireland, perhaps Britain. If you are into unique golf course adventures, add this course to your list, but if I had to pass up one course on our tour, this would probably be it.

This doesn't look too tough.

This is the hole where my bad drive ended up on the side of the hill on the right, and my bold shot over the hill to the green ended up lost. A good golfer would have hit it back on the fairway and then to the green.

The rugged landscape at Carne makes for a unique golf experience.

Lahinch Golf Club (Old Course)

Lahinch Golf Club founded in 1892, was originally with 10 holes on each side of the road.  In 1894, old Tom Morris was commissioned to create an 18-hole championship course, which was then redesigned in 1927 by Alister MacKenzie (who co-designed Augusta National Golf Club). Today, there are two 18-hole courses, the Old Course between the road and the sea and the flatter Castle Course, named after the nearby ruins.  Lahinch has been called the “St. Andrews of Ireland.”

Most people play the Old Course, which is like the Old Course at St. Andrew’s on steroids.  The giant sandhills and the rolling terrain make Lahinch a much bigger challenge than anything I experienced in Scotland, where the links courses are generally flatter.

If you are looking for authenticity, this is it!  There is even a herd of goats on the course and if they are sheltering near the clubhouse, it is a sure sign you are in for a wet round. I was somewhat disappointed by the new clubhouse. I was expecting a historic clubhouse with lots of stories and maybe even a few ghosts of championships past. There is also no driving range, which I was beginning to realize is the norm not the exception in Ireland.  

Lahinch has what might be the quirkiest hole I’ve played. The 4th hole is a short par five named Klondyke. The target off the tee is a narrow fairway located in a valley between two very large sand dunes. Then it is a blind second shot over the Klondyke (a giant sand dune) in the middle of the fairway about 200 yards away from the green. The ultimate blind shot!

What is also great about Lahinch is that the town is right there so you can mingle with the locals at the pub after your round of golf.  We stayed at the Vaughn Inn, which was very handy as you could walk to town or to the golf course. 

It is a beautiful day for golf in Ireland.

This is a par 3.  Yikes. 

Someone missed the green, that would be me.

My bold sand shot was close enough to the pin that I was able to one put and make my par. Beauty eh!

  TIME FOR A BEER. We had a great time touring around the town of Galway and The Oslo pub home of the famous Galway Bay Brewery.  The Goodby Blue Monday oatmeal IPA was a tasty treat.  However we did not find a Galway girl, but not for the lack of trying as the song Galway Girl was the theme song for our tour.  

TIME FOR A BEER. We had a great time touring around the town of Galway and The Oslo pub home of the famous Galway Bay Brewery.  The Goodby Blue Monday oatmeal IPA was a tasty treat.  However we did not find a Galway girl, but not for the lack of trying as the song Galway Girl was the theme song for our tour.  

Doonbeg Golf Club

Doonbeg Golf Club a new links course designed by Greg Norman, opened in 2002.  In February 2014, the lodge and golf course was bought by Donald Trump. As one might expect it’s very much a luxury North American resort rather than a quaint small town Irish golf course.  This course was probably the least favourite of most players on our tour. The good news is there is a driving range so no excuse for a poor start.

The course is also unique in that it has five par 3s and five par 5s and will be remembered for the numerous 100+ foot high sand dunes. The signature 14th hole at 111 yards is the shortest hole I have played in decades. It is also perhaps the most difficult with the Atlantic Ocean just beyond the green; a deep valley in front so there is no room for error.  Depending on which way the wind is blowing and what tees you are playing, it can be anything from a fairway wood to a lob wedge. I missed the green, but was on the fringe.

The first hole is picturesque. 

This is one bad looking bunker daring you to try and carry it.

  The ugliest bunker I have ever seen.

The ugliest bunker I have ever seen.

Who puts a bunker in the middle of a green? Bad idea!

It doesn't get more beautiful than this. You get some great views of the golf course while looking for your ball in the rough. 

Adare Manor Golf Resort

Adare Manor Golf Resort (AMGR) was our first parkland course and a welcome relief for most players on our tour – the links courses had beaten us up enough.  AMGR, established in 1900, is one of Ireland’s first and finest parkland courses.  Rich in history, set amongst the Franciscan Abbey (1300AD) and Adare Castle (1341 AD). It is also where I discovered Rebel Red, Irish red ale brewed by the Franciscan Well Brewery.  I’d give it a score of 95. Sorry, I digress.

We are thinking eagles today!

AMGR, as it was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., has a distinct North American look with tree-lined fairways and creative use of three lakes and the Maique River that meanders through the back nine.  It is rumored Jones thought the 18th hole could be the best par 5 in the world after he designed it.  It certainly was a challenge for our group as we were playing for day money and the final shot is over water to a large green.  You’d think that would be easy but even if you did choose the right club, you could easily be 100+ feet away from the hole and still be on the green.  This then meant you could easily three putt and not only lose the day money for best round, but also the putting competition.  One of our group made a 60 footer to save par.

I think everyone on the tour would rank AMGR as one of the top three courses we played.  Even if you don’t play well, it is like a walk in a park, a welcome relief from the wind, sand and ball searching on the seaside links courses.

Now that's big, bold and beautiful!

The bold golfer takes it over the sand trap and fades it onto the fairway so he can go for the green in two. Not me, I chickened out to the left and made par.

This is the 18th.  Doesn't look so hard, but it is.

Memories of Adare: An existential walk in the park! 

TIME FOR A BEER!  Our bus driver recommended Pat's place and it was a great spot.

It was here that I discovered my love of Rebel Red by the local Franciscan Well brewery.  

Yes it was a religious experience. 

IMG_5886.jpg

Island Golf Club

Just 15 minutes from the Dublin airport, The Island Golf Club could be your introduction to links golf in Ireland.  Founded in 1890, it is an “au natural” course with shaggy sand dunes everywhere. Sometimes you feel like you are playing alone in amphitheater, as you can’t see out. The course is also unique in that there are many small water ponds that include life preservers – luckily we didn’t have to use them.

Unluckily, this was the only course where we got rained out.  Most us got as far as the 13th hole, the 220 yard par 3 signature hole with its bail-out area short and left of the green (or you can be a hero and take on the beach and hope you have chosen the right club and hit it flush).  Unfortunately at this point, we were soaked to the skin despite our rain suits and waterproof shoes.

 I think we all agreed that we’d like to go back and take on this course again

Love the tradition at The Island.

A typical hole with elevated tee boxes, fairways guarded by sand dunes and larger undulating crowned greens where the ball rolls off the green into a collection area also called a bunker. 

  Boys I don't think this is going to let up, probably a good idea if we headed to the club house NOW!

Boys I don't think this is going to let up, probably a good idea if we headed to the club house NOW!

  Definitely needed a beer after being rained out.  Five Lamps Blackpitts Porter was as smooth as a Guinness, but with more bite and flavour. 

Definitely needed a beer after being rained out.  Five Lamps Blackpitts Porter was as smooth as a Guinness, but with more bite and flavour. 

Druids Glen Golf Club

Druids Glen is known as the Augusta of Ireland for good reason - it has the same tranquility, natural beauty and dramatic holes as Augusta National. I would love to go back and play it in the spring when the trees and flowers are in bloom. Certainly my favourite course, it would be a pleasure to play this course every day.  I think I had my camera out as much as my golf clubs, with its 18 signature holes.

Though the course looks like it has been there for ages, this Pat Ruddy and Tom Craddock-designed course only opened in 1995.  I think I will let the photos speak for themselves.

  The pretty first par 3 is just a hint of things to come.

The pretty first par 3 is just a hint of things to come.

How beautiful is this?

  It looks even better looking back.

It looks even better looking back.

  It just keeps getting better.

It just keeps getting better.

The bold shot is over the bush and fade it onto the fairway and not into the creek.  I was bold and successful.

The picture says it all.

As you can see I took more photo shots than golf shots.

Portmarnock Golf Club

Portmarnock situated on a two-mile long sandy peninsula covering 500 acres, makes it one of the most spectacular golf courses I have ever played. The land once belonged to the famous distiller John Jamieson (I recommend you bring a flask of his Irish whiskey with you when you play) and beginning in 1850, it was his private golf course. With the closing holes being both beautiful and brutal, for me there was a bit of a love-hate relationship. 

In the words of Bernard Darwin (grandson of Charles Darwin and World Golf Hall of Fame, British golf writer in the early 20th century), “I know of no greater finish in the world than that of the last five holes at Portmarnock.” Amen!

Portmarnock is well known for its lightening fast and true greens, many of being saucer-shaped or crowned greens, known for rejecting all but the best shots. I believe one of our group five-putted one green. It is definitely at the top of my “must play” list of golf courses in the Dublin area.

Portmarnock from the air.

The course feels very much like the link courses in Scotland - flatter with lots of pot bunkers.

There were several of these small lily-filled ponds. 

A slicer's nightmare.

These bunkers are just daring you to try and carry them.

County Louth (Baltray) Golf Club

When we drove up I really thought this was going to be a cow pasture but when we got our balls and saw the driving range, I wondered what the hell are we doing here. I have better buckets of balls in my garage than the dirty old balls we got from the dispensing machine and the driving range was more mud than grass - the first time I have every wished a driving range had mats.

However, what County Louth lacks in amenities it makes up for as a traditional, no gimmicks links golf course. Subtle rather than spectacular, I am OK with that. Established in 1892, the course has been tweaked several times, keeping it challenging for the low handicappers and fair to the high ones. Make sure you choose the right tee box. 

County Louth is best known for its par 3s, perhaps the best in Ireland. They are not long but they are challenging, depending on the wind.  From the green tees (6,338 yards), the par 3s are 143, 148, 131, 169 yards respectfully. However, you will have to use everything from a sand wedge to a fairway wood on any given day. To me, it is the par 3s that separate the great golf courses from the good ones.

The practice green is flat as a pancake, nothing like the greens, what's with that?  

  You know its going to be a bad day when they have markers in the rough to help you locate approximately where your ball might be!

You know its going to be a bad day when they have markers in the rough to help you locate approximately where your ball might be!

  Yep middle of the fairway off the tee, now the big decision do you hit short and try and roll up on the green or take your chances and hit is on the green. Just hit it!  Still loving my Clubs for Hire.

Yep middle of the fairway off the tee, now the big decision do you hit short and try and roll up on the green or take your chances and hit is on the green. Just hit it!  Still loving my Clubs for Hire.

Accommodations

Suneel with Dunbar tours strategically organized the tour so that we only stayed in three different hotels, making for a bit more driving each day to the golf course, but less packing and unpacking.  It also meant we had great accommodation and got to experience the buzz of Dublin with the small town charm of Westport, Lahinch and Galway.  

Stephen’s Green Hotel is perfectly situated across from the famous St. Stephen’s Green Park and just minutes away from Trinity College, Temple Bar and all of Dublin’s historic attractions.  It also included a hearty breakfast every morning.

Castlecourt Hotel in Westport, was a charming hotel with an animated bar where we all learned about the Irish sport of hurling (a combination of rugby, lacrosse and field hockey). If you think Canadians are passionate about their ice hockey, you should experience the Irish watching a hurling match at a pub.

Vaughan Lodge Hotel in Lahinch offered very comfortable rooms and we even had a special dinner prepared for us one night and the breakfasts were superb. We also made good use of the cozy bar for our nightly story time.

  The Corner Stone was the official bar of our tour while in Lahinch.

The Corner Stone was the official bar of our tour while in Lahinch.

  Guinness Time! It was music to our ears when we heard the fresh kegs of Guinness being delivered. 

Guinness Time! It was music to our ears when we heard the fresh kegs of Guinness being delivered. 

Last Word

If I had to golf seaside links golf courses everyday (I like to golf about 75 to 100 times a year from mid-April to mid-October, Calgary’s golf season), I would quit golfing.  Golfing in Ireland is totally different than golfing in Scotland or North America - the courses are more challenging due to more and larger sand dunes, more wind and the front of the greens are not designed to allow you to roll onto them.

I always thought link-style courses allowed you to roll the ball up onto the green, but in Ireland the front of the greens often have bunkers creating a very narrow opening to roll your ball onto the green.  The greens are also designed so that any ball with enough speed to roll onto the green usually has too much speed to stay on the green. 

Though it was great to be exposed to so many courses and some of the Irish country side, I think it would have been best to play fewer courses so you could play the same course two or three times to get a good feel for the nuances of the holes and the greens.  There are enough good courses in and around Dublin you could literally just use the city as our home base.  Contact Suneel and he will set you and your buddies up with a custom tour. 

By Richard White, January 17, 2015

La-Z-boy Tourist: Colour in the Canadian Rockies

You don’t always have to leave home to be a “tourist.” Recently, I curled up with a book I bought on a whim in a used bookstore in Salt Lake City (they have some of the best used and rare bookstores). Entitled “Colour in the Canadian Rockies” this 1947 book was authored by Fredrick Niven with full colour illustrations by Walter J. Phillips. 

Regular readers know I am mostly an urban guy, but once in awhile I like to get beyond the glitz, grit and grid of the street and experience the pastoral pathways of nature. 

I had never before heard of Niven, but I did know Phillips and just looking at the 32 full-page, full-colour reproductions of his watercolours of the Canadian Rockies is like taking a trip to the mountains without leaving your La-Z-Boy (the book also has 33 of Phillips’ fine pen and ink drawings).  I later learned that he was commissioned to do the watercolours to illustrate Niven’s prose as opposed to just a selection of his works.

Mount Rundle

I am also not usually drawn to wordy, flowery, poetic prose but for some reason Niven’s descriptions of the sense of places as he travelled up, around and through the Canadian Rockies seemed authentic and appropriate for the magic and majesty that is the Rockies.

I was immediately captured by “Sometimes they are the colour of ripe plums and seem immense. Sometimes they are just a low wavering inky smudge along the horizon…Sometimes they are smoky-hued mountains of illusion, clouds, and peaks blending in the eye….they give a sense of eternal permanence that makes the sound of bells ringing down the quarters of hours over Calgary, and the honking of motor cars in the streets, and the cough of trolley cars’ warning seem vague, unreal.”

On the opposite page was Phillips’ painting of Mount Rundle, which at first glance is a straightforward tranquil painterly realism representation, but upon further portrays the clouds in the sky and the reflections in the water as wonderful colourist abstractions.  

Cloud abstraction 

I immediately thought of Georgia O'Keeffe when I saw the Phillip's Lake Louise: Dawn - symmetry, sensuality,  abstraction, expression and rich colour.  

For several hours over a few days I was quickly transcended back in time and place to when the Canadian Rockies were first being discovered by Europeans on foot, by horse and by canoe.  Niven tells his personal tales of exploring the hills, rivers, and peaks, as well as the people of the mountains in a philosopher’s prose. Phillips would paint the sense of space, place and silence.

There were even a few history lessons, like was makes a good guide, "A good guide is one who breaks his dude (client) in slow, if he sees he's not in form, without letting him know it, and brings him in to camp just reasonably and healthily tired and with an appetite on him. 

Below Lake Oesa 

Sample Prose

“the names of the creeks and peaks had for me the quality of ballad music.”

“the still reflection of the spire-like trees that stood, as in tranced stillness…an effect of eternal imperturbability on the mountains…lonely projections into radiant space…two pyramidal, very majestic slashed with moonlight and shadow.”

“memory also I have of how the sense of immediacy fell away and yielded to a sense of timelessness.”

“a sense of loneliness inevitably enfolds us in these great solitudes”

“In the tree-tops down Sheol Valley, beyond the awesome slide, little winds sigh and pass and leave profound silence. The tom-tomming of creeks only accentuates the silence.”

“A forest of pillared quiet.”

“They rode on. Immediately we were again alone. Such is the effect of these places when others are encountered and pass. Loneliness enfolds us. The meeting takes on a quality of unreality. Human beings seem transient. They were here; they are gone; they are ghosts; we are all but as ghosts travelling through that quiet.”

Seven Sisters Falls, Lake O'Hara

About Niven

Frederick John Niven (born March 31, 1878, in Valparaíso,  Chile, died died January 30, 1944, Vancouver, B.C., Can.), regional novelist who wrote more than 30 novels, many of them historical romances set in Scotland and Canada. Three of his best-known novels - The Flying Years (1935), Mine Inheritance (1940), and The Transplanted (1944) - form a trilogy dealing with the settlement of the Canadian west.

Educated in Scotland, Niven worked in libraries in Glasgow and Edinburgh before immigrating to Canada about 1900 and working in construction camps in the Canadian west. Returning to the British Isles, he was a writer and journalist in England until after World War I, when he settled permanently in British Columbia. He also published verse and an autobiography, Coloured Spectacles (1938).

Hamilton Falls, full of wonderful colour, shapes, textures and subtle lines, makes further links to O'Keeffe, abstractionists and colourfield painters. 

About Phillips

Phillips was born in Barton-on-Humber in LincolnshireEngland. As a youth, he studied at the Birmingham School of Art. After studying abroad in South Africa and Paris he worked as a commercial artist in England. In June 1913, he moved to Winnipeg, where he lived for more than 28 years. Phillips died in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1963.

Phillips is famous for his woodcuts and watercolours. His artistic career spanned from the 1900s through the 1940s, during which time his work was exhibited throughout North America and Great Britain. Common subjects for Phillips included the lakes of Manitoba, the prairies and in his later years, the Rocky Mountains where his ashes were scattered.

In 1940 he was asked to be a resident artist at the Banff Centre, then known as the Banff School of Fine Arts, where he played an important role in the development of their visual arts program. The  Walter Phillips Gallery, in Banff, which focuses on contemporary, is named after him. The Glenbow Museum in Calgary holds an extensive collection of Phillips art and a research archive.

Lake Louse: Dawn, right-side-up

Last Word

To paraphrase Niven, “it is not only scenery that the forest and mountains offer, but their memories, experiences, restlessness, peacefulness, solitude and companionship.”  

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