Winnipeg vs Calgary: The Forks vs East Village

Then it hit me; The Forks isn’t an urban village it is a tourist district. 

Recently I was in Winnipeg for a wedding and had some time to wander their mega urban redevelopment The Forks, which is aptly named as it is located where the Assiniboine and Red Rivers meet in the middle of their City Centre.

As I wandered around at noon hour on a nice Friday in early October I wondered; “Where are the condos? Where are the office buildings? Where are the people running along the river?” 

I couldn’t help but reflect on how the location next to two rivers and just east of downtown was very similar to Calgary’s East Village and yet so different.

The Esplanade Riel Bridge connects The Forks to the community of St. Boniface across the Red River.  It has a restaurant in the middle that offers spectacular views of downtown, the river and the Human Rights Museum. 

  East Village's pathways along the Bow River in St. Patrick's Island Park with the George King bridge in the background.

East Village's pathways along the Bow River in St. Patrick's Island Park with the George King bridge in the background.

Similarities

Both sites were meeting places for First Nations peoples long before the pioneer settlers arrived. 

Both sites are about the same size - The Forks is 63 acres (doesn’t include Shaw baseball park) and East Village is 49 acres (doesn’t include Fort Calgary Park).

Both sites were once industrial sites, with The Forks being an old CN rail yard next to their Union Station, while East Village being more of a light industrial area with a rail line running along its southern edge.

Both sites struggled in the middle of the 20th century to find new uses.  CN Rail moved their yards to the suburbs in 1966 leaving the site vacant.  East Village buildings were torn down in the ‘60s to create ugly overflow surface parking lots for downtown.

Both sites lack good connectivity to downtown and neighbouring communities due to rivers and railway tracks.

Winnipeg's Union Station and railway sheds separate The Forks from downtown. 

Today, both sites are managed by a CEO who reports to a government appointed Board of Directors.  The Forks CEO, Paul Jordan reports to The Forks North Portage Partnership Board which was established by the Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments.  East Village President and CEO, Michael Brown reports to Calgary Municipal Land Corporation Board appointed by City of Calgary. 

Both sites have a major new museum, Human Rights Museum at the Forks and National Music Centre in East Village.  Both of which are only national museums located outside of Ottawa.  The Forks also has a Children’s Museum, Children’s Theatre and skatepark, while East Village has a mega new library and the family oriented St. Patrick’s Island Park.  And each has popular pedestrian pathways, plazas along the river’s edge and an iconic pedestrian bridge over the river. 

Both The Forks and East Village have very active programming to attract people to the site.  The Forks attracts over 4 million visitors to the site and is the City and Province’s number one tourist attraction.

The uniquely shaped Human Rights Museum dominates The Forks. In the foreground is a multi-purpose plaza that can serve as a skatepark, busker/performance space or casual sitting area. 

  East Village's National Music Centre

East Village's National Music Centre

  The Fork's river landing and pathway along the Assiniboine River just before it flows into the Red River. 

The Fork's river landing and pathway along the Assiniboine River just before it flows into the Red River. 

  East Village's Riverwalk with the Langevin bridge, 4th, 5th and LRT flyovers in the background. 

East Village's Riverwalk with the Langevin bridge, 4th, 5th and LRT flyovers in the background. 

The Market at The Forks is part food court (main floor), part retail space (second floor). 

  East Village: The Simmons building has an upscale restaurant, cafe and bakery. 

East Village: The Simmons building has an upscale restaurant, cafe and bakery. 

Winnipeg's Children's Museum is one of several cultural facilities located at The Forks. 

  Computer rendering of the Caglary's new Central Library looking west from East Village.

Computer rendering of the Caglary's new Central Library looking west from East Village.

Differences

The Forks North Portage Partnership purchased all of the land from CN Rail for $66 million, whereas the City of Calgary owned about 50% of the East Village lands at one point. 

  Aerial view of The Forks

Aerial view of The Forks

The Forks has no master plan governing how all of its land will be developed eventually, but rather is governed more organically adapting to new opportunities and needs as they arise.  The first thing CMLC did was create a comprehensive master plan with a detailed 3D video to help everyone understand the vision of the new East Village as a 21st century urban village.

The Forks is actively working with developers to convert 12 acres of surface parking lots next to the railway tracks and Union Station into Railside. The vision calls for $500 million to be invested by large and small developers to build 20+ buildings no taller than six storeys with retail at street level and offices and condos above and $50 million in public spaces. (Railside will be more like Calgary’s University District than East Village in that the land will be leased not owned, as The Forks partnership wants to retain ownership of the land).

  New condos and the East Village sales centre. 

New condos and the East Village sales centre. 

East Village’s development was funded by a Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) that was used to upgrade infrastructure and help build new public amenities like St. Patrick’s Island Park, National Music Museum and new Central Library.  The $357 million CRL has resulted in $2.4 billion in private sector development and is expected to generate $725 million in new tax revenues by 2027, which will more than pay back the $357 million levy. 

The Forks is a unique government led partnership with the return on investment (ROI) being shared by the three parties - City receives new property tax revenue, Province provincial sales tax paid on site and Federal Government getting all GST revenues. 

Like East Village, two of the most popular reason for visiting The Forks are Canada Day festivities and summer concerts.  What is very interesting is the Forks has been very successful in creating winter attractions – skating on the river and the Winter Park are listed as the third and fourth most popular activities in a 2015 Survey and not far behind summer concerts the second most popular activity, festivals being number one.   

East Village hosts an ambitious year-round program of events.

  Winnipeg's ice skating trails

Winnipeg's ice skating trails

Winnipeg’s Winter Wonderland

The Fork’s “Warming Huts” is a stroke of genius.  Since 2009, an international competition has been organized inviting designers to submit proposals for shelters to be installed along the river skating rink so people can stop, chat and warm up.  The program has captured international attention including the New York Times with the Travel Section headline “In Winnipeg, a Skating Rink That Doubles as a Sculpture Park.”

It has also captured the imagination of starchitect Frank Gehry who designed an igloo made of clear blocks of ice in 2012.

Winnipeg Ice Hut

Last Word

East Village is an intriguing example of private public collaboration based on an ambitious vision, master plan and implementation with a 20-year return on investment and build out.   It reflects Calgary’s corporate culture and the love of the mega projects.

After 30 years, The Forks is just now completing the return on investment for the three levels of government and is still decades away from complete build out.  It reflects Winnipeg’s government culture and love of grass roots development.

Paul Jordan and his Board of Directors are happy with The Forks’ slower redevelopment timeline as it allows for organic growth and the ability to respond to community needs over time rather than being locked into a fixed master plan.

I guess you could say there is “more than one way to skin a cat.”

If you like this blog, you will enjoy:

Winnipeg vs Calgary: Urban Hot Spots (Part 1) 

Winnipeg vs Calgary: Urban Hot Spots (Part 2) 

Winnipeg's Old World Charm

 

 

Montreal's Cast of Characters

Is Montreal Canada's happiest city? I have wandered a lot of streets in a lot of different cities in my life and I have never encountered so many happy surprises. Indeed the city does have a "joie de vivre" that doesn't exist in other cities, or perhaps it is just the Holiday (Happy) Season. 

After wandering the streets of the city for the past 10 days Montreal has become my happy place.  I thought Portland and Austin were happy places, but Montreal wins hands down with its crazy cast of characters and shops.  

I am not just speaking of the people, who indeed seem to be happy even in winter when it is snowing but also the many man-made characters I encountered as I wander Montreal's Rues and Avenues.  

I hope these photos will convey to you how Montreal's sense of fun and surprise combine to create a happy sense of place.

 I found this character at the Christmas Market at the Convention Centre. I believe he/she might be a costume from the Nutcracker ballet as this was Les Grands Ballets' Nutcracker Market with benefits going to the Nutcracker Fund for Children.    

I found this character at the Christmas Market at the Convention Centre. I believe he/she might be a costume from the Nutcracker ballet as this was Les Grands Ballets' Nutcracker Market with benefits going to the Nutcracker Fund for Children.   

  These fun characters sit on top of the entrance from St. Catherine's Street to Montreal's Underground City. 

These fun characters sit on top of the entrance from St. Catherine's Street to Montreal's Underground City. 

  Found a wall of these portraits in the lobby of the Concordia University building while shopping at their pop-up Christmas Market.    They captured my off-the-wall imagination.

Found a wall of these portraits in the lobby of the Concordia University building while shopping at their pop-up Christmas Market.  They captured my off-the-wall imagination.

  This fun character is from the world's largest Barbie Doll collection exhibition located in Montreal's Underground City.  

This fun character is from the world's largest Barbie Doll collection exhibition located in Montreal's Underground City.  

  This guy was keen to ham it up when I asked if I could take a photo.   

This guy was keen to ham it up when I asked if I could take a photo.  

  I am not sure if this mythical character is throwing a football or a baseball or perhaps just getting ready to work at Jeans Jeans Jeans.  

I am not sure if this mythical character is throwing a football or a baseball or perhaps just getting ready to work at Jeans Jeans Jeans. 

  These hipster heads brought a quick smile to my face. Montrealers love their winter hats and scarfs. 

These hipster heads brought a quick smile to my face. Montrealers love their winter hats and scarfs. 

  I was gobsmacked by the amazing murals tucked away in alleys and the back of buildings everywhere in Montreal.  I love the DIY outdoor art gallery they create.

I was gobsmacked by the amazing murals tucked away in alleys and the back of buildings everywhere in Montreal.  I love the DIY outdoor art gallery they create.

  Loved this old world sculpture and reflecting pond that looked like something from Paris or Rome in the World Trade Centre building in Montreal's International District. 

Loved this old world sculpture and reflecting pond that looked like something from Paris or Rome in the World Trade Centre building in Montreal's International District. 

  Another of the fun characters at the Nutcracker Market - this time real life. 

Another of the fun characters at the Nutcracker Market - this time real life. 

  I spent a lot of time looking up at the old buildings checking to see if there were any strange characters looking down at me like this guy. FYI: In the entrance of the St. James Church there is a note saying technically a gargoyle should be a water sprout; this was news to me. 

I spent a lot of time looking up at the old buildings checking to see if there were any strange characters looking down at me like this guy. FYI: In the entrance of the St. James Church there is a note saying technically a gargoyle should be a water sprout; this was news to me. 

  For 20 years Montreal's World Trade Centre has been celebrating Christmas with eight life-size Santa characters from around the world, including this Black Peter an evil-looking companion of Santa in the Netherlands in their lobby. 

For 20 years Montreal's World Trade Centre has been celebrating Christmas with eight life-size Santa characters from around the world, including this Black Peter an evil-looking companion of Santa in the Netherlands in their lobby. 

  Found this guy on the side of an ordinary older building that seemed to have no historical significance at the corner of St. Hubert and Duluth Ave.  It is a good example how almost every block has something strange or surprising that made for great flaneuring.

Found this guy on the side of an ordinary older building that seemed to have no historical significance at the corner of St. Hubert and Duluth Ave.  It is a good example how almost every block has something strange or surprising that made for great flaneuring.

 We were just wandering to a thrift store on Rue St. Hubert when I noticed a huge banner with for what looked like a contemporary exhibition titled "Workwear."  It wasn't clear if the show was inside but we decided to explore and sure enough Little Italy community centre was hosting a contemporary exhibition from Italy about fashion and workwear.  It makes us most happy when we just stumble upon something interesting - the thrill of the surprise. 

We were just wandering to a thrift store on Rue St. Hubert when I noticed a huge banner with for what looked like a contemporary exhibition titled "Workwear."  It wasn't clear if the show was inside but we decided to explore and sure enough Little Italy community centre was hosting a contemporary exhibition from Italy about fashion and workwear.  It makes us most happy when we just stumble upon something interesting - the thrill of the surprise. 

 Found this window while walking along St. Laurent Boulevard. Nothing makes me happier than great window displays.

Found this window while walking along St. Laurent Boulevard. Nothing makes me happier than great window displays.

  Loved this great use of bike as a prop for some winter greenery and summer flowers on the sidewalk in front of a florist shop. 

Loved this great use of bike as a prop for some winter greenery and summer flowers on the sidewalk in front of a florist shop. 

  Even in the suburbs we were able to find something to make me happy, including this modern sculpture outside the tired Plaza Cote-des-Neiges (shopping centre).

Even in the suburbs we were able to find something to make me happy, including this modern sculpture outside the tired Plaza Cote-des-Neiges (shopping centre).

  Found this cast iron 1939 bank at the St. Michel Antique Market.  I was tempted to buy it, but resisted.  Spent a very enjoyable 2.5 hours exploring the market, definitely worth a visit if the "thrill of the hunt" makes you happy. 

Found this cast iron 1939 bank at the St. Michel Antique Market.  I was tempted to buy it, but resisted.  Spent a very enjoyable 2.5 hours exploring the market, definitely worth a visit if the "thrill of the hunt" makes you happy. 

  Crew Collective & Cafe is located in the landmark 1920 Royal Bank headquarters building that was once the tallest building in Canada.  It made me happy the space is still available to the public and if you live in Montreal this could be your office.  Imagine going to work here everyday! We were there on a Saturday afternoon and the huge space was packed with people happily working away. 

Crew Collective & Cafe is located in the landmark 1920 Royal Bank headquarters building that was once the tallest building in Canada.  It made me happy the space is still available to the public and if you live in Montreal this could be your office.  Imagine going to work here everyday! We were there on a Saturday afternoon and the huge space was packed with people happily working away. 

Last Word

One the the key elements of a "happy city" in my mind is how friendly people are to strangers.  Montrealers couldn't have been more friendly to us.

From the store owner who offered to drive us to the St. Michel Market when we asked if we were going in the right direction (it was just 5 blocks away) to the couple who shared their bottle of wine with us at Les Jardins des Panos restaurant when they realized we didn't bring any wine (it is a bring your own wine only restaurant).  

Or how the young lady working at the LNF vintage store was more than willing to share her hot tips with us on where to get the best finds.  She even gave us her name, phone number and email if we wanted to contact her later. 

Don't believe people when they say Montrealers won't speak to you in English.  We never once encountered a local who when we said "Bonjour, do you speak English" wasn't willing to talk to us in our native tongue. We loved how many Montrealers said with a smile,  "You practice your French and I will practice my English!"  We loved that!

Next year Montreal is celebrating its 375th Anniversary, if you are looking for someplace interesting to visit, Montreal should be at the top of your list.   

For me, Montreal has definitely become one of my happy places.    

If you like this blog, you will like:

Mexico City: Full Of Surprises

Treasure Hunting In Portland 

Austin is more fun than weird

FFQing in Montreal

Regular Everyday Tourist readers know FFQ stands for "fun, funky and quirky"and FFQing is the art of looking for FFQ things to see and do in a city, town or village.  We have been in Montreal for just a week now and already we have a good list of FFQ things for visitors.  

These images also serve a fun postcards of everyday Montreal and the text tells some interesting Montreal stories.  

  You have to admit this is fun, funky and quirky.  Found this black and white carport artwork while wandering along Boulevard St. Laurent aka The Main (because it is Main Street and divides the city into east and west). The Main is full of fun murals in the alleys and on the side of buildings at street corners.  It makes this street a fun place to flaneur. You can find this garage at 4866 St. Laurent.

You have to admit this is fun, funky and quirky.  Found this black and white carport artwork while wandering along Boulevard St. Laurent aka The Main (because it is Main Street and divides the city into east and west). The Main is full of fun murals in the alleys and on the side of buildings at street corners.  It makes this street a fun place to flaneur. You can find this garage at 4866 St. Laurent.

  Jean Toss: Yes that is a pair of jeans (look at the top of the photo near the pillar) being tossed by staff at Jeans Jeans Jeans from a rack on the other side of the store to the fitting area. It is better than the fish toss at Seattle's Pike Market. Go on Saturday afternoon and you won't be disappointed. See video below.

Jean Toss: Yes that is a pair of jeans (look at the top of the photo near the pillar) being tossed by staff at Jeans Jeans Jeans from a rack on the other side of the store to the fitting area. It is better than the fish toss at Seattle's Pike Market. Go on Saturday afternoon and you won't be disappointed. See video below.

Captured this surreal light show at south-west entrance of the Montreal Convention Centre. The sun shining through the building's coloured glass facade created a wonderful mosaic on the escalator, steps, walls and floor inside the building. It is like walking into a stain glass window.

  This is a close-up of the Olympic Torch sculpture on the plaza in front of the offices of the Canadian Olympic headquarters.  The yellow and orange colours dance like a flame and the stainless steel reflects the street life to create a fun artwork that works well both day and night. IMHO

This is a close-up of the Olympic Torch sculpture on the plaza in front of the offices of the Canadian Olympic headquarters.  The yellow and orange colours dance like a flame and the stainless steel reflects the street life to create a fun artwork that works well both day and night. IMHO

  Stumbled upon a fun Barbie Doll exhibition in Montreal's Underground City. There were hundreds of dolls with designer clothes in display cases on the walls, as well as several fun vignettes, like this   fashion   show which was animated with models on runway and flashing cameras in the audience. See video below. The noise you hear is the fountain in the middle of the exhibition space.

Stumbled upon a fun Barbie Doll exhibition in Montreal's Underground City. There were hundreds of dolls with designer clothes in display cases on the walls, as well as several fun vignettes, like this fashion show which was animated with models on runway and flashing cameras in the audience. See video below. The noise you hear is the fountain in the middle of the exhibition space.

  If you are in Montreal, you have to go to a Cirque du Soleil show.  We caught the OVO show at the Bell Centre - it was a wonderful smash-up of ballet, gymnastics, circus, music and visual arts .  Fun entertainment for everyone!

If you are in Montreal, you have to go to a Cirque du Soleil show.  We caught the OVO show at the Bell Centre - it was a wonderful smash-up of ballet, gymnastics, circus, music and visual arts. Fun entertainment for everyone!

  Walking home one night discovered this quirky roof top artwork? patio? 

Walking home one night discovered this quirky roof top artwork? patio? 

  Ecole de technologie Superieure's (ETS) funky campus is located in Griffintown just west of the downtown core. One of the buildings has a very strange and subtle white on white design best seen from across the street. I took this b&w photo to try and capture it.  Planning to revisit and see if I can do a walkabout inside.   Click Here For More Info.

Ecole de technologie Superieure's (ETS) funky campus is located in Griffintown just west of the downtown core. One of the buildings has a very strange and subtle white on white design best seen from across the street. I took this b&w photo to try and capture it.  Planning to revisit and see if I can do a walkabout inside.  Click Here For More Info.

  Chabanel Street was once home to Montreal's bustling garment district. Today there are still many wholesalers who have showrooms there and on Saturdays some of them are open to the public.  It is a fun place to wander as you never know what you will find.  We got to see some of the Fall 2017 lines before the buyers did and heard stories of the good old days.  We also discovered this ghostly fashion show of mannequins in one of the empty spaces. 

Chabanel Street was once home to Montreal's bustling garment district. Today there are still many wholesalers who have showrooms there and on Saturdays some of them are open to the public.  It is a fun place to wander as you never know what you will find.  We got to see some of the Fall 2017 lines before the buyers did and heard stories of the good old days.  We also discovered this ghostly fashion show of mannequins in one of the empty spaces. 

  These urban igloos were a quirky surprise. Turns out everyone on this street of row houses has white plastic carports.  I am guessing it is winter adaptation due to the fact Montreal gets lots of snow. I sure hope they remove them after winter!

These urban igloos were a quirky surprise. Turns out everyone on this street of row houses has white plastic carports.  I am guessing it is winter adaptation due to the fact Montreal gets lots of snow. I sure hope they remove them after winter!

  This is another of Montreal's amazing public spaces that uses light and colour to create wonderful pedestrian experiences.  This is at the Place des Art. 

This is another of Montreal's amazing public spaces that uses light and colour to create wonderful pedestrian experiences.  This is at the Place des Art. 

  A remnant of the Berlin Wall, is on permanent display in the middle of the Ruelle des Fortifications in the lobby of the Montreal World Trade Center building. The lobby is located on the former site of Montreal's walled fortifications which were built in 1717 and demolished between 1804 and 1812.     The fragment, donated to the City of Montréal by the City of Berlin to commemorate Montréal’s 350th anniversary, is a testament to Berlin's return to the community of free cities after the fall of the Wall on November 9, 1989.

A remnant of the Berlin Wall, is on permanent display in the middle of the Ruelle des Fortifications in the lobby of the Montreal World Trade Center building. The lobby is located on the former site of Montreal's walled fortifications which were built in 1717 and demolished between 1804 and 1812. 

The fragment, donated to the City of Montréal by the City of Berlin to commemorate Montréal’s 350th anniversary, is a testament to Berlin's return to the community of free cities after the fall of the Wall on November 9, 1989.

  This is not Montreal's "Red Light District." In several places we encountered red lights from buildings shining on the sidewalk creating a fun (and warm) pedestrian experience. I am interested in seeing how it works in the snow. 

This is not Montreal's "Red Light District." In several places we encountered red lights from buildings shining on the sidewalk creating a fun (and warm) pedestrian experience. I am interested in seeing how it works in the snow. 

This wall of blue lights changes colours as pedestrians walk by SAT (Societe des Art Technologiques) building.  It serves as funky window covering to give some privacy to those working inside the school while also enhancing the pedestrian experience.  How cool is that?

 Found these "pom pom" ladies creating a playful window display along Boulevard St. Laurent. 

Found these "pom pom" ladies creating a playful window display along Boulevard St. Laurent. 

  This is the hallway to the elevators at Place Ville Marie to their Observation Deck on the 44/45/46 floors.  It is literally like walking into a geometric painting. FFQ for sure!

This is the hallway to the elevators at Place Ville Marie to their Observation Deck on the 44/45/46 floors.  It is literally like walking into a geometric painting. FFQ for sure!

  This was lucky find! It was in a restaurant under construction in Little Burgundy.  I was stopped in my tracks by two guys carrying in a huge mirror from the street. I couldn't resist looking inside and this is what I found.  Wasn't that a party?

This was lucky find! It was in a restaurant under construction in Little Burgundy.  I was stopped in my tracks by two guys carrying in a huge mirror from the street. I couldn't resist looking inside and this is what I found.  Wasn't that a party?

  I am astounded at the number of contemporary art galleries in Montreal. And they are everywhere, not just in the City Centre - Old Montreal, Little Burgundy, St Laurent, Rue St. Hubert, Plateau and Miles End. 

I am astounded at the number of contemporary art galleries in Montreal. And they are everywhere, not just in the City Centre - Old Montreal, Little Burgundy, St Laurent, Rue St. Hubert, Plateau and Miles End. 

Last Word

And this was after only five days? Montreal is very fun, very funky and very quirky! My kind of town!

If you like this blog, you will like:

FFQing in Colorado Springs 

FFQing in Washington's Tri-Cities

FFQing in Calgary's Udderly Art Pasture 

Metrovino: $5 Sherry Festival (More Please)

 

Woke up Monday (Nov 7, 2016) morning came downstairs to find Brenda all excited about a Sherry Festival produced by Richard Harvey at Calgary’s Metrovino the week of November 14th.  Immediately, memories of our first trip to Europe rushed into my still sleepy head.
Calgary Sherry Festival Fun

We were young and naïve. And I was cocky. We had booked a 3-week road trip adventure in Spain and Portugal.  We landed in Lisbon at afternoon rush hour and had to get to Cascais what we thought would be a short, easy drive to our hotel.  Wrong.

It was like driving the Deerfoot with traffic circles thrown in for some fun. (Note: this was the late 80s and I had never seen a traffic circle in my life.)  It was white knuckling all the way.  Backstory: We thought we were going to die at least 3 times in the first 2 days of this trip.  I learned to drive with one foot on the gas and one on the brake.  My motto became that of a running back in football i.e. run (or in this case, driver) for daylight.

Back to Cascais. We arrived to find none of the streets had signage names at the corner and their were few street lights – it was pretty much pitch black by then.  (Note: There was no GPS, or cell phone apps to guide us, just old school paper maps.)  We had to park the car and walk around to try to find where we were i.e. the street names were in ceramic tiles on the buildings, impossible to see from the road. 

Finally, we found our hotel and room to find two twin beds.  That wasn’t going to work for us, (remember we said we were naïve) so back down to the check-in desk to see if we could get a queen bed at least. (Note: We spoke no Portuguese or Spanish).  Yes, we made the twin beds work. 

After 3 days we thought, “what the hell have we done, but after 17 days we didn’t want to go home.” 

Most Embarrassing Moment

Seville is so rich with history and rituals, everyone should visit there at least once in their life. We were so fortunate that just by chance we were there at Easter. 

Perhaps one of the most embarrassing moments of my life happened in Jerez (the sherry capital of the world) while I was filling up our rental car with gas.  As we entered the busy gas station lot I noticed that one of the gas pumps wasn’t being used so I quickly pulled up to it and as former gas jockey, I was quick to jump out and started the fill up. People started looking and waving at me and saying something but not understanding a word they said, I just kept filling it up.

Then someone came over pointed to a word and turned it off.  The light bulb came on – I was filling up the car with diesel fuel and it was not a diesel car.  What to do? Luckily, we found someone who could speak some English who took us to a pub nearby where we phoned the rental car company who towed the car away and got us a new car later that day (all they charged us for was a full tank of gas).  I spent the day feeling stupid and we wasted what was supposed to be a fun day in Jerez tasting sherry.

Backstory: When I was an undergrad at McMaster University (’72 to ’76) I was introduced to sherry by one of my biology professors Dr. Davidson who became my mentor (what one might call a “life coach” these days).  He would host an annual Sherry Party in his condo full of modern art and Persian rugs for graduate students each year. As the President of the undergraduate Biology Club, I got invited and loved the smooth sweet taste of sherry.  My sweet tooth thought I had died and gone to heaven.  I started to volunteer to work in Davidson’s lab in the summers, partly to learn more about biology and the life of a researcher, but also for those 5 o’clock glasses of sherry and lively debates he often hosted in his lab.

  One of our best memories of our trip to Spain were the Easter processions. At first we thought it was the Ku Klux Klan the similarities in the costumes is scary.  

One of our best memories of our trip to Spain were the Easter processions. At first we thought it was the Ku Klux Klan the similarities in the costumes is scary.  

Metrovino

I first met Richard Harvey back in the mid 1980s when he was a partner with Janet Webb who opened one of Calgary’s first wine stores in the then brand new Glenmore Landing Shopping Centre (the Aspen Landing Shopping Centre of the ‘80s).  I used to hang out there every Friday for happy hour enjoying wine and chatting with Richard, Peggy (Peggy Perry the brains behind Willow Park Wine & Spirits), not the and Janet waiting for Brenda to return home from her job in Coaldale.

  Metrovino's Sherry Corner. 

Metrovino's Sherry Corner. 

We will definitely be heading to Metrovino for their Sherry Festival that also included tapas from Ox and Angela, Char-Cut, bar C and the Bar Von Der Fels.  One of my fondest memories was enjoying a tapas dinner in Seville watching the sunset from a patio on the Guadalquivir River and wondering what was Christopher Columbus thinking when he said off from here to find the new world. 

Would going every night and see if we can taste all 27 Sherries that Harvey stocks be too boorish? We did after all, we miss out on a lot of sherry tasting in Jerez. 

I wonder if Harvey has Harvey’s Shooting Sherry, it was one of my favourites.  I think they stopped making it several years ago, maybe he has a bottle in the back. 

  Richard Harvey is a urban flanuer who loves to where a beret. 

Richard Harvey is a urban flanuer who loves to where a beret. 

Last Word

Imagine $5 for sherry tasting, tapas and listening to Harvey’s storytelling.  Too good to be true; maybe I am still asleep and this is a dream. 

If you like this blog, you will like:

Rome: Surprise Playground Lunch

Beltline: North America's best hipster village

New Antinori Cellar: Simply Spectacular

Simply Priceless: Travel, Treasure Hunting & Kijiji

One of the fun things we do as “everyday tourists” is to visit second-hand stores (both when we are away and at home) hunting for buried treasures (yes, they are often buried under or behind the other junk). It might be an artwork, vintage home décor item or even clothes. Sometimes we keep them, but most times we display and enjoy them for awhile and then sell them on kijiji.   

Brenda loves to find hidden gems, sometimes things look interesting but she is clueless as to what they are.  She then can spend hours looking for them and then hours researching them - half the fun is in the research!  Often it leads to fun travel back in time.  There is an “eureka moment” when she finds out what they are and their history.

But the fun doesn’t end there.  We both love the people we meet (even if for a just a few minutes at the door) and the stories they share with us about why they are purchasing the piece which often involves some more time travel. 

 Everyday Tourist's world headquarters Kijiji Division 

Everyday Tourist's world headquarters Kijiji Division 

FOR EXAMPLE 

Just this week I wandered into Brenda’s kijiji headquarters and on the floor was a vintage-looking licence plate.  Turns out that same day she was in a Calgary Salvation Army store and spotted an unusual looking license plate in the cart full of things a staff member was just putting out. 

Side story: Brenda is like a sniper when it comes to spotting treasures in the rough.  She loves second-hand stores that are full of junk where you really have to hunt. Who doesn’t like a challenge? 

In this case, she found a clean, mint condition, authentic, aluminum license plate from the Red Lake Indian Reservation in northwestern Minnesota. A little research uncovered the fact that Red Lake rejects state jurisdiction, so they issue their own license plates to tribal members without (like the several other Minnesota tribes that have special plates) having to go through the state licensing. Who knew?

She also learned that the numbering (0000) on her plate reflects the fact it was a sample license plate. The two, large blue “blobs” in the design represent the reservation’s two, large, linked lakes. 

If we ever get to Minnesota, we will be sure to check out Red Lake!

TRIP TO LAPLAND?

A few weeks back I get an email with a photo saying “Look what I found, with the sticker still on it!” It was a nice enough looking glass pitcher but I didn’t give it much thought. When I got home, Brenda was quick to “fill me in.”

Turns out is was a“Iittala Ultima Thule Ice Lip Pitcher.”  Inspired by the melting ice in Lapland and with its uncompromising and timeless design, this distinctive, mid-century modern piece is claimed to be responsible for company Iittala’s international breakthrough. Again, who knew! 

Designed in Finland in the late 1960s, to this day it continues to be made in Finland and be the company’s signature piece. Note: “Ultima Thule” makes reference to the furthest possible place in the world – and a product line name of Iittala’s. She bought it for $4, it retails for $200 and she listed it for $125. 

The profit won’t get us to Lapland, but it will buy us a nice dinner on our next trip.  

Note: This piece sold quickly for $100 to a young woman who bought it because it reminded her of her grandmother who had one and when she passed away her aunt got the grandmother's pitcher. She had been looking on kijiji for one for awhile.  More often than not, the treasures go to a good home.

BACK TO FLORENCE

I have gotten into the habit of wandering into her room on almost daily to see what she has found or taken out of “inventory”.  Last week I noticed a decorative gold tray and had to ask, “Where did you get that?” 

Turns out it is a vintage Italian Florentine Gilt Gold Wood Tray she picked up in Winnipeg two weeks back.  It was ironic as we were in Florence exactly two years ago, it brought back fond memories.

Back story: During the Renaissance, Florence was renowned throughout Europe as a centre of fine art, particularly in painting, gold gilding, bronze work, and furnishings inlaid with intricate designs in marble or rare wood. The fine craft traditions associated with some of these arts never entirely died out. A museum of decorative arts, opened in 1865, was pivotal in helping boost Florence's economy by promoting its crafts to tourists.  That tradition continues today with many such items as trays being a collector’s item today.  Too bad today’s souvenir tourist economy involves tacky throwaway items and not meaningful local craftwork.

This gem was posted on Kijiji as a 1940 slightly raised scalloped-edged tray (12”by 18”) that “would look beautiful for a touch of shabby chic to any space - on a coffee table, on a sideboard, on a vanity.”

She bought it for $3 and hopes to get $20.  It will be interesting to see who buys it and why?

VINTAGE SUITCASE

Speaking of Winnipeg, I knew she had lucked out in the Salvation Army on Sherbrook Street when she came up to me with a big smile and carrying a vintage cardboard suitcase.  Again, she had picked it up just as it was being taken out of the back room (timing is everything).  

She couldn’t wait to get some history on it - turns out it is probably from the 1930s or 1940s.  Now listed on kijiji, it is described as a two-tone brown cardboard suitcase with its silver-coloured metal accents (i.e. rivets, clasps and corners - with "Cheney" (of England) engraved on clasps), brown vinyl reinforced outer corners and brown plastic/metal handle, and lined with paper – in a fun, brown checked plaid pattern. A nice piece of shabby vintage chic for display purposes – and/or storage. Dimensions are: 22” x 11” x 7”. Clean (no smells), closes/opens well – in very good vintage condition (just some minor wear and scratches on the outer corners and interior paper lining). No key.”

She hopes to turn her $3 find into a $40 sale, which should pay for lunch on our next trip.

BACK TO MINNESOTA

Something tells me we are meant to go to Minnesota as another of her October finds is a signed handmade pottery vase 7” high x 4¼” diameter. Its maker is experienced and long time, American potter Chad Briggs of Minnesota. 

I don’t understand why anyone would settle for mass produced when you can have one-of-a-kind piece?  Bought for $2 in Okotoks and sold for $15 – that’s coffee and dessert somewhere in the future. 

PINK PYREX IS HOT, HOT, HOT....

Brenda didn’t realize what a great find she had when she brought home (again from Winnipeg) a Pink Daisy Casserole Dish w/Cover Lid a few weeks back. In the late 50s, this oblong“Space Saver” baking dish was promoted as being great for “storing leftovers in space-challenged kitchens and fridges” – not unlike how a marketer might promote it today to those living in small condos or apartments!

Her Kijiji ad read, “It comes complete with matching clear glass cover/lid. The white stylized daisies on the pretty pink background are oh-so-charming.” And bonus... not only is this a rather rare piece, but it is clean and in excellent condition (no chips, cracks, faded colour/pattern)... ready to display in your kitchen or be put to good use!”

This sold in 20 minutes (by a repeat customer) with a profit of $35, which should buy a nice bottle of wine on our next trip (probably to Minnesota).  She had dozens of inquires a few hours of listing. Lesson learned: pink P Pyrex is hot.   

LAST WORD

We are hardly going to get rich buying and selling these artifacts, but it is a revenue neutral hobby that fits nicely into our love of travel, research and people.  And the stories, laughs, tears (of joy) and even gifts (yes, was even given a gift from a particularly grateful customer) are well, simple priceless.  

If you like this blog, you will like:

Victoria: Thrifting for art

Florence: Best Flaneur Finds

Treasure Hunting in Portland

Rosebud: A Prairie Gem!

Guest blog by Terry Bachynski

Whenever you are looking for a day away from the city, our natural tendencies in Calgary and Edmonton are to look and head west to the Rockies.  A day of hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, skiing or just taking in the beauty of our Rocky Mountains is always a great respite from the city traffic and pace.

However, there is so much more that our province offers.  My wife, Laura, and I like to explore Alberta randomly.  Just get in the car and head in any direction and see what we can find.  Exploring small towns is one of our favourite ways to spend a free day. 

One such day adventure, near 30 years ago, lead us north and east out of Calgary. We headed for Drumheller and the Badlands.  But, we never got there.  Heading east on Highway 9 we came upon a road sign that said “Rosebud 10 km”. Rosebud?  The name was too tempting. 

We had to see it for ourselves. A south turn onto secondary highway 840 and a short trip down a winding, up and down road finally ended (literally) in a small valley along the Rosebud River and the quaint hamlet of Rosebud.

Along the road to Rosebud

Entering Rosebud from atop the valley you first notice a small grouping of prairie town buildings and the ever present grain elevator to the south. As we approached, we noticed that, unlike other isolated and all too forgotten prairie hamlets, this cluster of buildings looked in reasonably good shape and in use! 

We quickly determined that Rosebud was more than what met the eye.  The entire town exists and thrives beyond its history of farming and coal mining.  The town is a hub of artistic creativity.  That first accidental visit found us arriving just in time for the buffet dinner and stage show.  We grabbed a couple of tickets, enjoyed a delicious buffet dinner and then crossed the street to the opera house for the live show.

The economic and creative anchor for the town is the Rosebud School of the Arts and Rosebud Theatre.  Doing a little research for this blog, I discovered that the artistic heartbeat of the town started with a “one-off” summer camp for high school kids in 1977.  Since then, the Rosebud School of the Arts has grown into a post-secondary educational institution focused on development of theatre arts. 

The Rosebud Theatre offers a full year of live stage productions in the restored and renovated prairie opera house as well as second studio stage.  The productions are far ranging - dramas, musicals, comedies - and always family friendly. We’ve seen dozen of shows over the years and we are never disappointed with the production quality and talent on the stage.  These actors have chops!

Over the years, we have come to know many of the people who work and live in Rosebud.  It is always a treat to visit and spend a couple of days in the area.  When you go, you’ve got plenty of options for comfortable and welcoming accommodations. 

Link: Discover Rosebud

B&B Fun....

The Rosebud Country Inn is run by BJ.  She’s a sweetheart and took over the Country Inn 7 or 8 years ago.  It’s a great place to stay with delicious afternoon tea and pie served up most afternoons.

  Rosebud Country Inn. Love the porch!

Rosebud Country Inn. Love the porch!

If BJ’s is full, there are several other options.  The Actor’s Studio B&B is operated by Nathan and Cassia, both excellent actors who frequent the boards on the Rosebud stage.  Nathan also makes a mean apple pancake breakfast that just makes your mouth water.  Delicious!

The Rose Cottage Bed and Breakfast is a unique experience every time you visit.  John and Sue decorate the breakfast room in the theme of the current mainstage show at the time.  On our last visit, the entire room was dressed up like a set from Downton Abbey. 

Sue’s home town cooking is delicious.  During our last visit, they invited us to have dinner with them and we were fed a feast fit for a harvest crew.  In fact, that is what it was.  Sue and John also provide hot dinners to the harvest crew of a local farmer every night during harvest season and deliver the meal to the workers in the field.  They invited us to join them. 

Thankfully, for us, the “on location” dinner was canceled because a cold front moved in.  (We didn’t have the right clothes for the field.) So, we just pulled up to their kitchen table and chowed down on delicious sausage, root vegetables, purple cabbage and a spectacular apple crisp accented with a zest of orange.  What a treat!

Link: Rosebud Country Inn B&B

Link: Actor's Studio B&B

  A hearty Rosebud breakfast...

A hearty Rosebud breakfast...

Art Fun.....

The hamlet also swings way above its weight class with the various shops available to theatre patrons.  The Mercantile, Kith and Kin and other shops offer lovely, artistic and unique products, many created by local artisans.  You are certain to find something special that you will not find “in the mall” back home.

We have spent a valentine’s weekend in Rosebud where the entire town pulled together to create a wonderful experience for couples.  We, along with several other couples who flocked to Rosebud for Valentine’s Day enjoyed many special events created by the community for us.

Of course, we took in the dinner theatre and second stage productions.  However, we also enjoyed bonfires, hay rides, cooking classes, coffee tasting classes (just like wine tasting, but with varieties of coffees – we learned so much about the art of coffee making), live music performances and many other special experiences created just for the town’s guests.

Since accidentally stumbling upon this prairie gem, Laura and I have become more connected with the community.  We are both artists and retired actors, ourselves, so, perhaps our connection to the community has something to do with our personal interests.  

This connection, however, has created an opportunity for us as well. The community supports artists.  We currently have our art hanging in the Akokiniskiway Art Gallery through to the end of October.  All proceeds from the sale of our art go to support the Rosebud School of the Arts. 

  Terry Bachynski's playful prairie paintings inspired by trips to Rosebud, Alberta

Terry Bachynski's playful prairie paintings inspired by trips to Rosebud, Alberta

  Laura Bachynski's nostalgic photos inspired by years of exploring Alberta's back roads. 

Laura Bachynski's nostalgic photos inspired by years of exploring Alberta's back roads. 

A Prairie Success Story

Of course, so many people would say there is nothing to do in a small, isolated prairie hamlet.  How could you possibly keep yourself engaged and interested when you can literally walk from one end of town to the other in less than five minutes? I can promise you that Rosebud will surprise and delight you.  

Rosebud is a prairie success story.  A small hamlet that has re-invented itself and has created an oasis of creativity and community generosity.  The entire town thrives because they care about what they have created. 

So, take a couple of days, book a room at a local B&B, take in the current stage production, enjoy dinner, take a walk down the main street and explore the Akokiniskiway Art Gallery.  Get to know Rosebud. 

You’ll come back for more.

Editor's Note: 

"Gentle Scenes Gentle Dreams" is the title of Laura and Terry's exhibition at the Akokiniskiway Art Gallery until the end of October 2016. Below is their artists' statement: 

Laura and Terry Bachynski are both heavily influenced by their daily experiences from their travels within and beyond Alberta’s boarders. The married couple travel often and widely, frequently with paints and canvas in tow, seeking out new experiences. 

Laura is often drawn to the stories of intimate spaces and images that translate to the detailed attention to mood and personal experience in her images. Often you feel that you can sit and rest inside one of Laura’s paintings and become a part of the setting.

Terry looks at the landscape as an inspiration to allow his imagination to create images of flowing skies, rolling hills and distant horizons.  Many of his paintings, although inspired by his experience in the landscape, manifest in an almost abstract interpretation of all that surrounds us.

Laura’s artistic expression is founded in the intimacies of life’s scenes while Terry’s interpretations look beyond the physical space and explore the energy that lies behind it.  Both artists, in their own way, praise God for the beauty around us and endeavor to share their experience of The Great Creation with others through their works.

If you like this blog, you will like:

Meeting Creek: Ghost Town vs Art Town

Calgary: Sitting On The Porch

A 1,600 km shoe shopping weekend road trip?

Calgary vs Austin / 17th Ave vs South Congress

Great cities have signature streets that capture the imagination of tourists from around the world.  Austin's signature street is South Congress in Calgary it is still up for grabs. This blog compares Calgary's 17th Avenue with Austin's South Congress as a tourist attraction. 

 

Calgary's 17th Avenue 10 blocks south of downtown is a quirky mix of restaurants, cafes and shops. 

To some, the 17th Ave SW shopping and dining corridor (2nd to 14th St. SW) is still Uptown 17, while to others it is the Red Mile and yet others (specifically the 17th Avenue BRZ), it is RED (Retail Entertainment District).  For many Calgarians, the heyday of 17th Avenue was during the 2004 Calgary Flames Stanley Cup playoff run when tens of thousands of Calgarians took over the street after every game.  The impromptu street festivals captured national and international media attention, creating an image of Calgary as a fun city. 

Austin's South Congress Avenue looking north to downtown is a major highway. 

But after the Flames lost in the Stanley Cup finals, 17th Avenue has never really been able to capitalize on the opportunity of becoming one of the great urban streets of  North America. Melrose Sports Bar, the epicenter of the Red Mile, closed in January 2014 after 23 years of operation.  It has recently opened with much fanfare as Trolley 5 Restaurant & Brewery. 

Today, 17th Avenue struggles with its branding.  Is it a restaurant row? Absolutely. It is home to Pigeon Hole, #1 in enRoute Magazine’s Canada’s Best New Restaurants (2015) and Model Milk #2 (2012). It has also become a very popular destination for pizza lovers with restaurants like Una and Cibo.

Calgary's 17th Avenue has a vibrant cafe culture. 

Is it a shopping street? Indeed. Some long-standing destination retailers include Rubiayat, gravitypope (love the new space), Reid’s Stationary and Purr, as well as two of Calgary’s best optical boutiques - Eye Candy and Brass Monocle.   Newer additions include West Elm, Modern Duke, Structube, Steelng Home and Kit and Ace.

17th Avenue's gravitypope shop is dazzling. 

Both 17th Ave and South Congress have fun candy stores....this is 17th Ave's!

Both streets have quirky retail shops...this is one of the Rubiayat's many display cabinets with unique curiosities, home decor and collectables. 

Entertainment a key element for tourists

Is it an entertainment district? In my opinion, a resounding, “No!”  There are no cinemas, no theatres and no performing arts centres. The only live music venue of any renown is the Ship & Anchor Pub.  

When I think of “entertainment,” I think of more than shopping, drinking and dining, I also think of sidewalks full of people, buskers, lots of street vendors and food trucks. This is exactly what we experienced along South Congress Avenue in Austin earlier this year with its Stampede-like atmosphere on weekends as well as Thursday and Friday evenings, despite there being nothing special happening.

Calgary's 17th Avenue has vibrant patio culture. 

Physically, South Congress Ave and 17th Ave are very similar. Both area about a 10-minute walk from downtown. Both are a mix of retail and restaurants about 10 blocks long with lots of patios. However, this is where the similarities end.

Shortly after I got back from Austin, I made a point of visiting 17th Avenue on a nice spring Saturday to check out the action. Yes, there were people on the sidewalk but it was hardly the lively impromptu street festival atmosphere experienced on South Congress.

South Congress Avenue's sidewalks on Saturday afternoon have a festival-like atmosphere.

South Congress has numerous outdoor live music spots that open out to the sidewalk. 

South Congress' corners are animated on Saturday afternoon. On the opposite corner is a lively food truck hub. 

We loved this busker on South Congress who would create a poem on the spot based on the subject of your choice.  We had him create a poem about thrifting...we loved it. 

17th Avenue's Tomkins Park on Saturday afternoon is too often devoid of any vitality. 

Creating Vitality

Firstly, there is a greater sense of spontaneity about South Congress, with buskers performing day and night.  What would be surface parking lots in Calgary were Food Truck lots in Austin. There is even an artisan market on a parking lot one night a week. And the patios are more animated, several offering live outdoor music.  

Speaking of music, the biggest difference between the two streets is that South Congress has several live music venues (indoor and outdoor) that add an additional element of entertainment. Live music is everywhere in Austin, including the airport lobby. Branding the city as the “Live Music Capital of the World” is very appropriate.

The Continental Club one of Austin's iconic live music venues is located on South Congress. 

A third difference is there are few financial institutions on South Congress, while 17th Avenue seems to have one on every corner.  Banks on corners are urban vitality killers – they do nothing to add to the street vitality. I realize they are prepared to pay the high rent for the corner visibility so landlords are quick to lease to them. Perhaps we need a bylaw that prevents (or limits) banks from leasing corners on pedestrian-oriented streets as part of Calgary’s new Main Streets program.  

Too many of 17th Avenue's corners are taken up by financial institutions which create no sidewalk vitality.

ATB Financial, 17th  Ave Calgary

Who needs density?

Something else struck me as unusual on South Congress – there were no highrise condos anywhere nearby.  No mid-rise condos either for that matter.

We are lead to believe by urban planners that density is the key to creating 18/7 urban vitality, yet South Congress is thriving without any significant infill projects.

17th Avenue on the other hand has numerous highrise and midrise infill condos completed over the past few years with more to come. It has also seen numerous new and renovated retail spaces open up, attracting new retailers like West Elm and Best Buy.  It will be interesting to see what impact Embassy BOSA’s new 34-storey Royal tower (223 upscale condos) with an Urban Fare grocery store at street level and second floor Canadian Tire when it opens in 2018.  

FYI: I was hoping for a cinema complex as part of the Royal development.

Calgary's 17th Avenue has several highrise condo towers, while Austin's South Congress has none. 

Streetscape Improvements

What I also found interesting is that South Congress has no significant streetscape improvements or beautification initiatives.  There were no street banners, no fancy benches and few bike racks.  The sidewalks were adequate but nothing special and it certainly isn’t a tree-lined boulevard.  In fact, it is an old fashioned, much maligned six-lane highway.  Yet, at the same time, it remains a vibrant pedestrian street. 

Neither is there a park or plaza space on South Congress for people to gather or events to take place. It has nothing to match 17th Ave’s Tomkins Park and certainly nothing like 17th Ave’s high-tech public washroom installed in the park in 2008 that attracts over 40,000 “visitors” a year.

Calgary’s 17th Avenue is currently receiving a major upgrade - new sidewalks, buried power lines, new LED streetlights, more trees and crosswalks.  While these changes will enhance the 17th Avenue experience I am not convinced they will add significantly to its vitality.  What is really needed is more entertainment – music, theatre, comedy club and cinema venues. 

Last Word

Whatever you call it - Uptown 17, Red Mile or RED – Calgary’s 17th Avenue has many of the ingredients needed to become one of North America’s BoBo (bohemian and bourgeois) streets. It has the “rich and famous” living near by in Mount Royal and the “young and restless” living in the Beltline.  It has a good mix of retail and restaurants too. But what it lacks is the 18/7 street animation and entertainment venues to become a tourist attraction like South Congress in Austin.

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald, titled "17th Avenue Needs An Entertainment Scene" on September 24, 2016

If you like this blog, you will like:

Austin vs Calgary: Sister Cities?

RED: Calgary's Urban Playground

The importance of the public realm!

Calgary's 7th Avenue: Good but not great!

Pescara, Italy: One Damn Good Day or 4.5 Hour Lunch

This guest blog is by Gaelen Taylor who I have known since he was 8 years old when I became his Big Brother.  Fast-forward to January 2016 at age 28, he decided to quit his engineering job with Imperial Oil in Edmonton to pursue his keen interest in composing electronic music in Berlin. Since then, he has been publishing regular blogs about his experience.  When I received this blog about his Italian family lunch experience (10 courses and 4.5 hours), I thought it would be fun read for Everyday Tourist readers.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Pescara, Italy: One Damn Good Day!

About a month ago, I rolled the dice of fate and booked a vacation with Diego, an Italian classmate in my German class.

Pescara Italy

I really didn’t know Diego that well, but decided nothing would be better than to be accompanied by an Italian in Italy - to experience Italy like an Italian. (Especially since I’d experienced his culinary talents when he made handmade pasta for my visiting father and me at a restaurant he is part of in Berlin.) And since Diego, his partner Roberta, and child Amelie were going back to see both of their families (they both come from a small coastal city on the west coast of Italy called Pescara), it just seemed right to take the opportunity. 

I slept about an hour the night before the flight to Rome. The night before that I also had very few quality hours of sleep after the SIN festival (Gaelen has formed a collective of techno-musicians in Berlin called SIN aka Strength In Numbers). After incurring what felt like debilitating neck injuries uncomfortable plane seats (not helped by nonstop kicks from the Italian kid beside me who seemed to think he had both seats), we landed. I woke to enormous applause. I thought this was a bit strange, but maybe everyone claps when the pilot lands the plane on domestic flights in Europe.

But as I looked around, everyone was so excited - like children going to Disneyland - which I had not seen anywhere else on my European travels. The reason, I concluded, was they were all “home” - and for these Italians, this was the highlight of their year as home was something very special to them.

As we rushed from the plane towards the bus (Pescara is a 3-hour bus ride from Rome), my legs felt like jelly as my body started to complain about the effects of sleeplessness.

Once on the air-conditioned bus, I fell asleep instantly, only to be awoken by stabbing neck pains (why do I always forget those neck cushions?). As I tried not to move my neck too fast in fear of being paralyzed, I tilted my head to the window and one of the most scenic images filled my view. We were in the mountains now and I could see a plain of small villages below, with other villages literally built right into the rock face - like a bunch of mountain goats eating grass on an impossibly steep rock face. 

I smiled and closed my eyes. I had no idea what I was getting into - and that for me, is exciting.

MAMAAAAAA!

We exited the bus in the scorching 35 degree C heat. I suddenly heard loud intense screams and cries. It sounded like someone had just been shot. My glance scans around for danger - and then I see it - grown men running to their mothers screaming MAMAAAAAA! Cars start pulling over with people getting out and running to embrace each other. Did we just come back from war?

Roberta’s father comes eliciting similar embraces. There is no room in the car for four travelers and our bags so Roberta and Amelie get into the car while Diego and I walk to the house just 600 meters away. We had to hurry though – Italian lunch (and one of the most incredible eating experiences of my life) was waiting.

Diego, also a victim of sleep deprivation (though his was mostly due to excitement) was filled with adrenaline and smiles as we rushed down the scenic Pescara alleyways to the house. We arrive and met his father - a non-stop Italian prankster in his 70s who looks and moves like he is in his 60s. After we settle in, people start showing up, each time involved screaming, yelling, clapping, kissing and embracing - continually surprising me from the previous moments of reasonable volumes of talking.

After seemingly nonstop, celebrity-style arrivals, the first plates of food arrived. A humble bottle of red and rose wine sit on the table - something which I later learned you can never empty - Italian households have an infinite stock despite the modest appearance of two bottles.

The 4.5 Hour Lunch

Now what I am about to describe is surely the top - or close to top-eating experiences of my life. Partly because of how delicious it was, partly because of the atmosphere and people, and most definitely because of the sheer surprise of how the lunch unfolded. You will ask as you read - how could we have possibly digested that much? Well, we ate for 4.5 hours. And no exaggeration- 4.5 hours of nonstop Italian food. So loosen up your belt.

First course: Appetizers

  • Fresh tomatoes from Diego’s father’s garden, which taste unlike any tomato I have ever had.
  • Pecorino
  • Fresh salsiccia (like homemade Italian peperoni-type-deliciousness)

Second course: Pasta

  • Hand made fettuccine in fresh hand made tomato sauce

Third course: More Pasta

  • Hand made (seeing a theme here?) ravioli with vegetable and ricotta filling. Un.be.lievable.

Fourth course:  Fresh Cheese

  • Fresh mozzarella from cow’s milk. Tastes unlike no other mozzarella I have ever had.

Fifth course: Delicious Meats

  • These were the moistest, most delicious meatballs ever. I actually asked Diego what meat they were made of. Turns out just regular beef but ridiculously moist and tender. I have no idea what sorcery was involved in making them.

Sixth course: ArrosticiniAbruzzesi

  • Abruzzesi is the region that Pescara is in – and arrosticini is the dish that makes grown men cry.
  • Essentially, it is lamb on wooden skewers, but I can’t describe how insane this stuff tastes. It was so tender and full of taste that most often people eat these until they get sick (no lie)!

Let’s take a moment to talk about our lord and saviour, Arrosticini: 

One thing to know about arrosticini is the specific way of cooking it. There are special made grills for just this purpose. Here are some photos I have collected of arrosticini grills:

  

  Diego's Father - arrosticini maste

Diego's Father - arrosticini maste

 Industrial grade arrosticini cooking - over 100 at a time

Industrial grade arrosticini cooking - over 100 at a time

Tall Tale Teller?

At this point, Diego’s father starts telling stories of how serious of an eater he is (all in Italian which required translation for me). One time he said he ate 50 oysters and later that night he needed to go to the hospital where he stayed for a week. He stands by his belief he only ate 2 or 3 too many (not maybe 40 that is likely more accurate).

Another story bubbles up regarding eating a kilogram of mushrooms. However, it ends in the same fashion (hospital). This is a new class of eating – where, at times, a hospital visit from overeating is needed.

Back to the 4.5 hour lunch

Seventh course: More Fresh Cheese

  • Buffalo mozzarella, much firmer than mozzarella from cow’s milk and a bit sharper in taste. This one is my new favourite.
  • Fresh made ricotta. It felt like you were eating clouds.

Eighth course: Cake from heaven

  • Diego’s mother used to be a professional baker at a local cake shop.
  • The cake was some form of Italian ricotta cheese cake. I can’t even begin to describe it but it was amazing.
  • She made sure to tell me that it “was nothing” and that I should have seen and tasted her baking in her younger days!
  • Also, I witness the first time she ever tried the cake, which is ridiculous given she’s made it for years.

Ninth course: Hand made Gelato and homegrown melon

  • There were about 7 flavours. Pistachio and melon were out of this world - like way out. At this point, I am so high up on the stairway to culinary heaven; I cannot speak (also because I am so full).

Tenth course: Diego’s mother’s special coffee and “coffee killer”

  • The coffee was made up of a secret combination of different kinds of coffee – really tasty and insanely strong. I have no idea how she made it - it wasn’t espresso and she could only make ONE at a time.
  • Grappa, the “coffee killer” is a form of schnapps made from wine. I hear the Grappa and coffee are to help your body process all of the food you just consumed.
 Mama's  coffee - really needed at this point 

Mama's  coffee - really needed at this point 

 Grappa - the coffee killer

Grappa - the coffee killer

 

Walk It Off!

Oh and your wine glass is never empty throughout the course of this lunch. 

At the end, they all said I was the first foreigner to eat every dish they prepared - I felt as if I had just received a medal from the Italian President.

Pretty tipsy from all the wine and so full I could barely speak without sounding like Jabba the Hut, I rolled out of my chair in ecstasy and went for a walk with Diego and his father.

During the walk, we stopped every 2 minutes to talk to people they knew. The walk was very good for the digestion – if you ever do this Italian power circuit of food, you must not sit afterwards. You must keep moving!

So tired afterwards, we went back to Roberta’s father’s house where we were staying. My head hit the pillow and I was asleep instantly.

It was one damn good day!
  Diego and his father heading out for a walk! LOL!

Diego and his father heading out for a walk! LOL!

Last Word

Gaelan’s experience reminded me of my amazing seven-course with wine pairings gastronomic experience at Restaurant Le Cinq in Paris (one of the top restaurants in the world) with renowned Calgary food and restaurant critic John Gilchrist.  I was very, very lucky to be the “stand in” for John’s wife Catherine who was unable to make it. I am forever in her and his debt.

Flaneuring Calgary's Stampede Poster Parade

One of the oldest Calgary Stampede traditions is the creation of the Stampede Poster.  It began with the very first Stampede in 1912 when Guy Wedick invited iconic Western artist Charlie Russell to provide the artwork for the first poster. Since then, the Stampede poster tradition has evolved significantly from one of advertising all of the Stampede events to becoming a collectors' item.

  Calgary Stampede's first poster. Note the first Stampede took place in early September. 

Calgary Stampede's first poster. Note the first Stampede took place in early September. 

If you are interested in starting a collection, Aquila Books’ website lists a 1945 poster for sale at $650 US and a 1961 poster for $525 US.   In addition, they have a large selection of Stampede posters from the ‘70s to the present.

If you are interested, you can see all of the posters on the Calgary Stampede website, or see them paraded in the +15 concourse connecting the BMO Centre to the Saddledome – expect for 1922, 1926 and 1930 which they have been unable to find for their collection. 

(Backstory: The Stampede didn’t develop an archive until 1999 which meant they had to source all of the posters from other collectors.  If you have one of the missing posters or know someone who might, the Stampede would love to talk to you.)

Link: Stampede Parade of Posters

Calgary Stampede Poster 1913
Calgary Stampede Poster 1914
  Starting in 1923 the poster format became long and narrow - almost ticket-like.

Starting in 1923 the poster format became long and narrow - almost ticket-like.

Flanuering Fun 

For something different to do at Stampede this year, why not flaneur the posters with family and friends. It is sure to bring back memories.  You will discover lots of fun facts, like what years the 3 Stooges or Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were the feature entertainment.  It is fun to see how the admission to the Stampede has changed and discover some intriguing statements like “ Wheat And Meat Will Help Win The War.”

It is also enlightening to see how graphic design has changed over the past 100+ years in typography, colour, paper and printing quality.  The early posters are very busy, full of information with a matte finish, while the modern posters feature a large glossy image with just the name and dates.  It is also interesting to see how the people of the First Nations were featured on many of the early posters, while modern posters focus on the cowboy and his horse.  

In 2007, the Calgary Stampede began commissioning an original artwork for the poster as a means of supporting Western artists and elevated the status of the posters as a work of art in its own right.

Calgary Stampede Poster 1954

Often the Calgary Stampede posters included images and information about other things for tourists to see and do.

Poster History 101

The history of posters, which begins with the invention of lithography in 1798, is a very interesting one. It wasn’t until 1891, that Toulouse-Lautrec’s extraordinary Moulin Rouge posters elevated the status of the poster to fine art and started a poster craze.  The early Stampede posters have much in common with the late 19th early 20th century European Poster culture. At that time, French posters focused on the café and cabaret culture, Italian ones on opera and fashion and Spanish ones on bullfight and festivals, so it is not surprising Calgary’s early poster culture reflects its largest festival and Western heritage and hospitality.

Link: A Brief History of the Poster

Last Word

The concourse area where the posters are displayed is available to visit free anytime of the year, (many of us have passed by rushing too and from the LRT Station to the Saddledome). Bonus: At Stampede time the concourse provides panoramic views of the Stampede grounds with all its colour and pageantry. 

Calgary Stampede Parade of Posters

View of Calgary Stampede from the +15 Concourse.

Austin & Calgary: Sister Cities?

By the numbers, there are some amazing similarities between Austin and Calgary.  Both are young highly educated cities – Austin’s average age is 31 with 46% of Austinites having a postsecondary degree.  Calgary’s average age is 36, with 60% having postsecondary education.

Austin’s is a rapidly growing city. Its current population of 912,791 is growing by 150+ people a day.  Calgary with a population of 1,200,000 was the fastest growing city in Canada according to Stats Canada – growing 13% (from 2006 to 2011).

Like Calgary, Austin is young and active.  This is the pedestrian bridge over the Lady Bird Lake, aka Colorado River with Austin's 2nd Avenue condos in the background that look very much like Calgary's East Village. 

Like Calgary, Austin has a downtown skatepark, not as large as Calgary's but it definitely attracts some talented athletes. 

Calgary's Peace Bridge, designed by world famous bridge architect Santiago Calatrava is a popular playground for Calgary's young and restless. 

Love Their Rivers

Both Austinites and Calgarians love their rivers - the Colorado River and Barton Creek in Austin and the Bow and Elbow Rivers in Calgary.  Both cities have very busy river pathway systems packed with walkers, cyclists and runners when weather permits (not too cold in Calgary and not too hot in Austin). 

Austin's river pathways are very popular on weekends. 

It is very common in Austin to see boats of all types in Lady Bird Lake...in the distance is a fishing boat. 

Calgarians love their green beaches like this one in Stanley Park. 

Fishing on the Bow River in Calgary.  

River surfing on the Bow River. 

In the summer, thousands of Calgarians raft on the Elbow and Bow Rivers in Calgary. 

Party Towns

Austin’s infamous SXSW, a huge 10-day film, music, interactive media technology festival / trade show / conference generates $411 CDN million into the city’s economy in 2015 and attracted 140,000 participants.

By comparison, the 10-day Calgary Stampede annually attracts over 1 million (350,000 being out-of-town visitors) for concerts, rodeo, chuckwagon races, grandstand show, midway rides and agricultural exhibition.  Its annual economic impact is estimated at $350 CDN million.

Austin's Kite festival is an amazing site and a fun family party. 

Look carefully and you will see that most of the people are dressed up as they have just participated in Calgary's POW - Parade of Wonder as part of Calgary Expo aka Comic-Con. 

Music Cities

Austin bills itself as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” with 100+ live music venues and its world famous Austin City Lights music program.  Everybody gets into hosting live music in Austin from grocery stores to the airport.

The City’s historic music district is downtown along East 6th St. a grungy street resembles Calgary’s Electric Avenue (11th Ave) back in the ‘80s.  Home to numerous loud and seedy bars, as well as the 1929 Ritz theatre, it is more a tacky tourist street than a serious music district.  Today, the best music venues are in neighbourhoods outside of downtown.

Calgary is in its infancy as an emerging international music city boasting an International Folk Festival, SLED Island as well as numerous smaller emerging music festivals. Calgary has only a handful of live music venues and only a few that offer live music 7 days a week.  (Some of Austin’s venues offer 3 acts a day - happy hour, headliner and midnight band.)  The opening of the National Music Centre will definitely enhance our city’s reputation internationally.

Stephen Avenue is Calgary’s equivalent to Austin’s East 6th Avenue as downtown’s primary pedestrian oriented street.  However, Stephen Avenue is a more attractive and diverse street with its mix of shops, restaurants, concert and performance theatres, art house cinema and restored historical buildings. 

Just one of hundreds of live music venues in Austin offering a plethora of genres of music. 

Calgary's Tim Williams at the Blues Can. Williams won the International Blues Competition in 2014. 

Urban Living

Urban living in Austin is booming.  Although the current downtown population is only 12,000 it has been growing rapidly with 6,832 condos and apartments built since 2000 and another 2,000 currently under construction.  

However, this pales in comparison to Calgary’s 36,000 urban dwellers.  Urban living is also booming in Calgary with almost 15,000 new residential units since 2000 and 2,200 under construction.

Austin’s budding 2nd Street urban village, looks amazingly similar to Calgary’s East Village with several shinny new high-rise white condo towers, a new library and City Hall and sprinkling of shops, Whole Foods and Trader Joes grocery stores and a signature pedestrian bridge over the river. 

Austin’s 82,000 downtown employees work in 9 million square feet of office space (1.3 million square ft. under construction), 7,800 hotel rooms (2,140 under construction) and hundreds of restaurants, retailers and bars in 1.9 million square feet of commercial space.

By comparison, Calgary City Centre (downtown and Beltline) roughly the same size as Austin’s downtown) has 150,000+ employees occupying over 40 million square feet of offices, 4,000 hotel rooms (500 under construction) and 1,000+ retailers and restaurants in whopping 6.4 million square feet.

Downtown Austin has no department store, indoor mall or shopping street; shopping is scattered all over the place.  Austin has nothing to match Calgary’s historic Bay Store, Holt Renfrew or the stunning The CORE shopping centre. 

Austin also lacks a contiguous historic district like Stephen Avenue or Inglewood. However, Austin does a much better job of animating its downtown corners with outdoor patios, rather than the banks and office lobbies dominating Calgary’s corners.

A view of downtown Austin from South Congress aka SoCo.  SoCo is a an eclectic pedestrian street (despite being a major road) with shops, restaurants, music venues, great patios and numerous permanent food trucks on empty lots. 

Austin's 2nd Avenue District is blooming as an urban village with new condos, two grocery stores and shops. 

Austin's condo skyline. 

The Core in downtown Calgary is a three block long indoor shopping mall with 1 hectare indoor garden.  

Stephen Avenue is Calgary's downtown Main Street and a National Historic District linking the Olympic Plaza Cultural District with the Financial District.  Austin has nothing like Calgary's iconic Hudson Bay department store. 

Urban Street Life

Austin’s hip street is SoCo (South Congress Avenue), which, like Calgary’s Kensington Village, is on the other side of the river from downtown.  Even with South Congress Avenue’s six lanes of traffic, it supports a vibrant street life with a great mix of shops, restaurants, bars and live music venues.

What makes SoCo outstanding is its outdoor culture.  Austin’s climate allows Austinites to play outdoors year-round – there are patios everywhere, live music is played on the front lawns and empty lots and food trailers occupy what would be surface parking lots in Calgary.   Every weekend SoCo takes on a festival atmosphere!

Kensington’s container bar and a few outdoor patios pales in comparison. On the other hand, Kensington boasts a better café culture and more infill residential development.

While, SoCo provides Austinites with a vibrant street culture, it is the only game in town, with nothing to match Calgary’s 17th Ave, 11th Avenue or Inglewood.

On weekends Austin's SoCo takes on a festival atmosphere. 

Gueros on SoCo is famous for its free live entertainment. 

SoCo has numerous quirky shops. 

Austinites love their Tacos. 

Calgary's 17th Avenue is popular urban playground even in the winter; this photo was taken in February. 

Cafe Beano on 17th Avenue is perhaps where Calgary's cafe culture began back in the '80s. It is popular with both artists and CEOs. 

Analog Coffee on 17th Avenue the new kid on the block. 

Calgary's Kensington Village offers lots of urban surprises given its proximity to the Alberta College of Art and Design and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. 

One of the best surprises in Kensington Village is the Container Bar. 

Kensington Village is also home to Calgary's year-round flea market and summer farmers' market. 

Big Differences

The biggest difference between Austin and Calgary is in transit use.  We never saw Austin’s LRT and bus service is limited.   Thank God for car2go, which allowed us to explore Austin’s outlying business revitalization zones by day and music venues by night.

We stayed in a lovely Airbnb in the upscale Clarksville community, which we thought would be convenient for walking. We quickly discovered sidewalks in poor condition (or non-existent), and very few streetlights making walking at night treacherous.

While there were some lovely homes, Austinites’ pride of home ownership seems much lower than in Calgary’s inner-city communities – even desirable neighbourhoods have lots of unkept properties, weed-infested lawns and gardens and crumbling sidewalks.

Calgary has one of the busiest Light Rapid Transit systems in North America. 

Austinites love to dance - as soon as the music starts people get up and dance. 

Austin condos have above ground parkades like this one, whereas Calgary condos and office buildings have their parking underground. 

Downtown Calgary has 40 million square feet of office space, making it one of the top 10 in North America, compared to Austin's 10 million square feet. 

Last Word

In my humble opinion, after visits to Austin and Portland (considered by many urbanists as two of the best emerging urban cities) Calgary offers as many - or more - urban amenities.

Unfortunately, Calgary continues to fly under the radar with planners and tourists as an emerging urban playground. 

Note: An edited version of this blog was published in the Calgary Herald titled "City Scenes: Austin vs Calgary," June 11, 2018

If you like this blog, you will like:

Cowtown: The GABESter Capital of North America

Austin is more fun than weird!

Group Think or Good Urban Planning?

John Hall: The Everyday Experience Bond!

I have always loved John Hall's hyper realism paintings of everyday objects in electric colours.  

John Hall painting

I showed Hall's work often when I was the Director/Curator of the Muttart Public Art Gallery in the late '80s and early '90s.  After I left the Muttart I was fortunate enough to add one of Hall's artworks to our collection - ironically it is titled "Tourist IV."

Who knew two decade later I would be blogging as the Everyday Tourist? Who had even heard of blogging the late '90s.  It is hung in our breakfast nook and is a part of our meals everyday. 

A recent trip to Kelowna allowed me to see Hall's retrospective at the Kelowna Art Gallery and not have to wait until it comes to Calgary in January 2017.  It was enlightening to see the how Hall's work has evolved, how he as incorporated everyday objects and events into his work, yet maintained a consistent vision of the everyday world we share, be that in Calgary, Kelowna or San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.  

Having been in Mexico City, last Fall really helped me appreciate Hall's ability to capture sense of the everyday experience of urban living in a different culture. I have always felt a kinship with Hall's work, but never really understood why as I am not a big fan of realism.  

I now realize that we share the same fascination with collage of the everyday objects in everyday living. 

I hope you will enjoy this photo essay of Hall's retrospective which includes some of the artworks and all of the didactic panels. I have decided to not include the titles of the artworks as I think they can speak for themselves. 

John Hall
john hall painting
john hall painting
John Hall paintings
John Hall Painting
John Hall painting

Last Word

John Hall: Travelling Light A forty-five-year survey of paintings is on view at the Kelowna Art Gallery until July 10, 2016.  It will be at the Nickle Galleries as the University of Calgary from January  26th to April 29th, 2017. 

If you like this blog, you will like:

Iconic Canadian Art Hidden In Office Lobby

Denver's Tallest Office Tower Turned Into An Art Gallery

DREAM: Calgary's Best Kept Public Art Secret

 

 

 

Group Think Or Good Urban Planning?

Visually it is eerie how similar Austin’s 2nd Street District and Calgary’s East Village look.

On a recent trip to Austin I was amazed at how similar their 2nd Street District’s recipe for urban renewal is to Calgary’s one for East Village.   The 20-block includes numerous high-rise condos, mixed with a few mid-rise, and dashes of - a new library, city hall and signature pedestrian/cycling bridge over Lady Bird Lake (aka long narrow reservoir on the Colorado River).

While Calgary’s East Village has an old Simons Mattress building as its signature historic building on the river, Austin’s 2nd Street has the historic Art Deco Seaholm Power Plant, currently being transformed into a mixed-use building with condos, offices retail. 

Austin's downtown skyline is dominated by condo towers.

City of Austin Power Plant that is being repurposed as part of the mega makeover of their downtown next to Lady Bird Lake. 

The Simmons Limited warehouse building has been transformed into multi-tenant restaurant, cafe and bakery on RiverWalk next to the Bow River. 

Austin’s 2nd Street District, like East Village, is still a work in progress. But it is perhaps a five year head start as it already has two grocery stores (Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s) and boasts 50+ upscale places to sip, savour and shop – East Village has three.

From a housing perspective, 2nd St. District has several completed high-rise condos including The Austonian a 56-storey currently the tallest building in Austin. There are also several condos under construction including The Independent, a funky chunky tower, that surpass The Austonian by 2-feet.

Calgary’s current tallest building The Bow, office tower, is 58-storeys.  And though technically in East Village, in reality it faces southwest into the downtown central business district and turns its back on East Village.

The major difference is that Calgary’s East Village has direct access to the Bow River, while Austin’s 2nd Street District is cut off from the Lady Bird Lake by a major highway (Cesar Chavez Street).  However, Austin’s 2nd Street District has much better connectivity to it’s neighbouring districts than Calgary’s East Village which is cut off from its neighbouring districts by the Municipal Building and CPR railway tracks.

Austin's 2nd Street District is cut off from the waterfront by a major highway. 

Road connecting Austin's 2nd Street District to major road along the river similar to Calgary's Memorial Drive. 

Calgary's East Village condos this summer. Residents are now moving in and new mixed-use projects are commencing construction. 

Calgarians have direct access to the Bow river from East Village.  

Fostering Urban Vitality

Interestingly the streets of Austin’s 2nd Street District were devoid of urban vitality weekdays and weekends despite thousands of residents. It was only around the James D. Pfluger pedestrian bridge and the reservoir pathway that we experienced Austin’s urban vibe. 

Like Calgary, the pathways along Lady Bird Lake were packed with people of all ages - running, walking and cycling.  I dare say they are used even more than Calgary’s. Austin’s pathways are literally just a wide “bare ground” path that weaves its way naturally along the heavily treed shoreline. There is no separation for different users.  This is very different from Calgary’s expensive, highly designed, hard-surfaced Eau Claire and East Village pathways.

As well, Lady Bird Lake has much more use than Calgary’s Bow River - there was always someone fishing, kayaking, rowing, paddle boating or paddle boarding. Though Austin’s warmer climate certainly has something to do with the increased river usage, the fact you can rent watercraft right in the City Centre makes it easy for locals and tourists to enjoy the river.

James D. Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge doesn't feel like a bridge, more like a promenade. 

  East Villages George C. King bridge links East Village to St. Patrick's Island. 

East Villages George C. King bridge links East Village to St. Patrick's Island. 

As well, Lady Bird Lake has much more use than Calgary’s Bow River - there was always someone fishing, kayaking, rowing, paddle boating or paddle boarding. Though Austin’s warmer climate certainly has something to do with the increased river usage, the fact you can rent watercraft right in the City Centre makes it easy for locals and tourists to enjoy the river.

Austin's river pathway near 2nd Street District on the weekend.  

Lady Bird Lake is very animated with canoes, kayaks, fishing boasts and other water craft creating a colourful and animated sense of place. 

St. Patrick's Island in East Village is quickly becoming a popular hang-out spot for families in Calgary. 

Calgarians love to stroll along the Bow River near downtown. 

St. Patrick's pathway along the Bow River in Calgary's East Village also offers passive places to sit, think and reflect.

Too soon to judge

One can’t help but wonder if there is a real urban planner group think when it comes to creating early 21st century urban villages as they all seem to have the same formula – lots of high-end, high-rise condos for young professionals and empty nesters with a smattering of grocery stores, retail and restaurants at ground level and anchored by major public spaces and one or two mega public buildings.  

Rendering of Austin's new public library located in the 2nd Street District. The library is under construction.

Rendering of Calgary's new public library in East Village, which is also under construction. 

Austin's 2nd Street retail streetscape. 

East Villages street retail is just starting to take shape. 

  View of Bow River and East Village RiverWalk from roof-top patio of the Simmons building. 

View of Bow River and East Village RiverWalk from roof-top patio of the Simmons building. 

Billion Dollar Experiments

I am reminded of some of the lessons of Jane Jacobs community vitality activist and author of the 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities that has become the bible for many urban planning. She warned, “beware of planners and urban development plans that try to encourage orderly city planning.”

I hope these billion-dollar experiments in city building in both Calgary and Austin work as planned. Only time will tell.  Calgary’s East Village experiment is looking good now, but it won’t be until 2040 that we will really know if the East Village master plan has resulted in an attractive, sustainable, vibrant urban community.

Calgary's East Village emerging skyline from St. Patrick's Island. 

Austin's downtown condo skyline at night.

Last Word

The time to judge the success of any new master planned community, urban or suburban, is about 10 to 15 years after it has been completed.

An edited version of this blog was commissioned by Condo Living Magazine. 

If you like this blog, you will like:

Austin's Kite Festival: Cheap, Colourful, Chaotic, Crazy!

Don't be too quick to judge!

St. Patrick's Island: The Good, The Bad, The Nice To Have

Calgary's Chinatown Postcards

Chinatowns are fun places to flaneur in any city. Recently, I found myself near Calgary's Chinatown on a sunny spring afternoon with some time to wander so thought I'd check it out. 

I am sad to report it was like a ghost town - no street vitality, shops were empty (many vacant) and many of the building were looking very tired.  For example The Opulence Centre, with HSBC as its anchor, should be an embarrassment for both the bank and the building owner. 

Calgary's Chinatown lacks the hustle and bustle, clutter and chatter that is commonly associated with a healthy chinatown.  

Below are photos of Calgary's Chinatown - the good, the bad and the ugly!

Racy dolls found in Dragon City Mall shop window.

Flickering spring sun on Chinatown's Golden Happiness Plaza and Bakery. 

Archway to Chinese Seniors Centre provides a wonderful vista of the Centre Street Bridge and its iconic lions. 

Chinatown's bilingual culture. 

Chinatown's street vitality includes cars parked on the sidewalk, while street parking spots sit empty and only seniors on the sidewalks.  

One of Chinatown's many lions, with office tower looming in the background. It looks angry!

This fun dragon cut-out that can be found on the railing of Chinatown shop is just one of the many urban surprises. 

Another dragon adorns the entrance to the indoor Dragon City Mall. 

Another fun urban surprise. 

Next to the Bow River, this fish wall is yet another surprise.  

Dragon City Mall has been empty every time in have visited for over a decade. 

Who knew Calgary's Chinatown has a street art alley? 

A Chinatown alley waiting for a couple of murals? 

Super Hero Window in Dragon City Mall.

Colourful Chinatown retail display. 

   Chinese chess or xiangqi is basically a board game fought between two armies each with sixteen pieces. This one was found in a window in upper floor of Dragon City Mall. 

Chinese chess or xiangqi is basically a board game fought between two armies each with sixteen pieces. This one was found in a window in upper floor of Dragon City Mall. 

Chinese Cultural Centre with downtown office towers looming in the background

Last Word 

It would be a shame to lose Calgary's Chinatown as it has been part of our downtown for over 100 years and has the potential to add so much charm and character next to our central business district.  

It should also be a vibrant fun urban playground, not only for those living in Chinatown but all of Calgary's City Centre residents. 

Learn more about Calgary's Chinatown: Link to Calgary's Chinatown History 

If you like this blog, you will like:

Design Downtowns for Women: Men Will Follow

Bridges Over The Bow

Feng Shui & Urban Design

Austin's Kite Festival: Cheap, Colourful, Chaotic & Crazy!

For a long time I have been saying Calgary needs a kite festival. What the heck every city needs a kite festival.  Here in Calgary, a kite festival would be a great signature event for Fort Calgary and East Village.  When I knew we would be in Austin in early March, I was thrilled to discover we could attend their annual kite festival – the world’s oldest.

Each year Austin’s Kite Festival attracts over 20,000 people of all ages and is one of the city’s best-known annual events. Held on the first Sunday of March, (the second Sunday of March is the alternate day if weather doesn’t cooperate),

Family fun for everyone at the Austin Kite Festival.

 

It is the kick-off to springtime in Austin

Everyone is welcome – there is no admission to attend, no obligation to participate in the contests or even fly a kite.  Most folks do try their hand at flying a kite, but some just come to see the spectacular sight of thousands of kites in the sky and to enjoy a spring day in the park. It is perhaps one of the most inclusive events I have every seen.

Too Much Fun

The festival lived up to my expectations. There was lots of excitement in the air when I arrived at 11 am in the massive park (350 acres i.e. 16 times the size of Calgary’s Riley Park). 

I overheard one kite flyer say he was there at 6 am to get the best spot. (Hmmm – sounds like something one would here on Stampede Parade Day in Calgary.)  Another guy said he had driven six hours to get there and does so every year. Many young families, pulling wagons with food, coolers and assorted paraphernalia (some even with their dog) came out for the day.

The kids were all smiles with lots of room to run, twirl and look at all of the dancing kites. I was shocked at how many young kids were actually able to fly the kites.  And while it looked very chaotic with people scattered everywhere and invisible strings being manipulated at every which angle, I saw only a few injured kites and no injured kids.  It was a Sunday miracle.

I think the photo and video speak for themselves.

A sense of the chaos that is the Austin Kite festival. 

Photographers love to get just the right perspective.

The kite festival is pure joy for little ones. 

Bubble making fun is also part of the kite festival.

It is not just kids and families that enjoy Austin's Kite Festival. 

History 

The ‘Kite Tournament’ was created in 1929 by a men’s service club called The Exchange Club of Austin with a mission to encourage creativity in children. Exchange Club President Ed St. John came up with the idea to give kids a constructive activity the community could participate in. The first Tournament was held in Lamar Park, which is thought to have been close to the intersection of Congress Avenue and 1st Street in the middle of downtown.

In 1936, the Exchange Club partnered with the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department to bring the event to newly opened and larger Zilker Park. In 1956, the Kite Tournament was opened to competitors of all ages, and to this day contest events have changed very little.

Austin’s Zilker Park Kite Festival is the longest continuously running kite festival in the United States and continues to be sponsored by the Exchange Club and the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department every year. Its lead corporate sponsor for 2016 was ABC Home and Commercial.

Last Word

Austin’s Kite Festival is cheap, colourful, chaotic and crazy – all in a very good way. 

Wouldn't it be great if this open field at Fort Calgary became the home for an annual kite festival and perhaps an informal kite flying park when not in use for festivals. 

car2go tips for the savvy urban traveller

The savvy urban traveller today has more transportation options when s/he is travelling than ever before. It used to be the options were to walk, take transit, hail a cab or rent a car.  Now the list often includes things like car2go, Lyft, Uber and bike rentals.

A big walker, I usually just give myself enough time to walk as I often find hidden gems along the way.  And given most of my holidays are spent wandering the streets of the city centre, walking and public transit are my norm. However, I am finding more and more I want to travel beyond the city centre to find those hidden urban gems.

When researching Austin TX, I quickly discovered many of the music venues I wanted to go to and the thrift stores Brenda wanted to dissect were not easily walkable from our Clarksville neighbourhood Airbnb. 

Also quickly figuring out public transit in Austin wasn’t great and Brenda not being a bike rider, our options were quickly becoming more limited.  That was when I thought this holiday would be a good time to give car2go a try.  There had been many times in Calgary when I had passed one of their “funny little cars” and thought how quick and easy it would be to hop into one rather than walk the 50 minutes each way to a downtown meeting from our house.

So like all good travel writers, I contacted car2go, which just happens to have its head office in Austin, and asked if they would be willing give the Everyday Tourist some free minutes while we were in Austin in return for texting out about where we took our car2go.  There was no obligation (or pressure what so ever) to do a blog and write something nice about them. They were genuinely happy to simply have us tweet out how we used car2go.

They even offered – and I readily accepted an orientation in Calgary so we could hit the road “driving” when we arrived at the Austin airport.

Big Savings:

During our two-week Austin stay (Feb 25 to March 8, 2016), our car2go costs added up to $317.82 US for our 44 trips. Renting a small car would have cost us about $800 US, plus gas and parking.  The $500 savings paid for one of our airfares; that’s being savvy traveller.

Lessons Learned:

Yes, you can fit two good size pieces of luggage in the back of a car2go.  (Car2go currently has airport parking access in six of their 13 North American locations - Austin, TX; Columbus, OH; Vancouver, BC; Calgary, AB; Toronto, ON and Minneapolis, MN.)

I loved that I could reserve a car for 30 minutes on my phone and know exactly where it would be waiting for me. I even found I didn’t mind that 5 or 10-minute walk to my car as it felt I was getting some exercise – walk and ride vs. park and ride! And it sure was much nicer than walking to a nearby bus stop and waiting 5, 10 or 15 minutes. 

I loved the ability to park just about anywhere, as you need only a little space and the cars maneuver easily to park. (Caution: The parking rules are different in every city so be sure to review the parking information on their local website for the city you are visiting before you go.)

Only in Austin can it be 30 C and they still call it winter (we were there in late February and early March and it sure felt like summer). Brenda loved that the air conditioning was “instant on.”

car2go allowed us to check out off the beaten path places like Black's BBQ. Now that's a rib. 

But what we loved most is car2go gave us the freedom to quickly explore places in Austin we probably would never have done without using car2go. This can be particularly good on short vacations when time is limited. It also meant we could visit three, sometimes four, districts a day, jumping in and out of the car all day long as if we owned it.  Yes, we would get a car in the morning and often have the same car to drive home.  (Caution: You can’t assume that you own the same car for the day so be sure to take all your belongings with you at all times.)

We even used the navigation system at the beginning (we don’t have one in either of our cars) and it worked well (except we couldn’t figure out how to get it to talk to us) but by the third day we had the lay off the land, so didn’t need it.

It was great for grocery shopping as we could walk there and grab a car2go for about $4 and be back with our bags of food and adult refreshments in our Airbnb apartment in minutes.  

We also found by using car2go rather than walking 15 to 20 km a day, we were more rested and keen to check out Austin’s music venues at night.

One of the biggest surprises in Austin was that the residential streets (at least in our area), have poor or no sidewalks and lighting is minimal.  I mean the streets are pitch black (“bring a flashlight” black).  There is no way you want to walk home after dark. Car2go was the perfect way to check out Austin’s music venues, which often start with a Happy Hour at 6:30pm, then a headliner at 10pm and a nightcap band at midnight.

  Sunday afternoon at Saxon's Pub was a definitely one of the highlights of our trip. We probably wouldn't have made it here if not for car2go.

Sunday afternoon at Saxon's Pub was a definitely one of the highlights of our trip. We probably wouldn't have made it here if not for car2go.

Last Word

Overall, car2go allowed us to make better use of our time and energy, and develop a better appreciation of all Austin has to offer. Using car2go and staying in an Airbnb, we really felt like we were locals for two weeks.

I can definitely see us using car2go in Calgary and when we are planning future trips. 

If you like this blog, you will like:

Austin's Weird & Wonderful Outdoor Art Gallery

Ten commandments of a flaneur

Get "Off The Beaten Path" with these tips!

Austin's Wonderful, Wacky & Weird Outdoor Art Gallery

I had read about and seen pictures of Austin’s Hope Outdoor Gallery (HOG), but they did not prepare me for the three-storey outdoor graffiti gallery located on an abandon inner-city lot on the side of hill over-looking downtown.

Backstory: I love graffiti art. I even travelled from Gleichen, Alberta to New York City in the early ‘80s to experience graffiti art in its heyday - from subway cars to upscale art galleries. I came back and created several graffiti murals on the sides of buildings in Gleichen as well as incorporated it into my studio painting.  That was another life.

The view from the top gives you a sense of the height and scale of the project.  

From The Top

Found this spray can at the top of the Gallery, inviting me to contribute.  I am tempted to go back. 

We entered from the top of the gallery, which is not the usual entrance, which is at the bottom along Baylor Street at 11th Street. We were walking from our Clarksville Airbnb apartment so I knew we could get there taking the back route, but couldn’t quite find it. 

Knowing we were close and seeing a fireman getting out of his car at a charming historic fire station we asked him how to get to the outdoor gallery. He pointed and said, “Go to the end of the No Outlet (aka cul de sac) street that we had just passed and you will be at the top.” He also warned us to be careful if we tried to walk down as the area is badly washed out. Oh those fireman, they are always looking out for everyone’s safety.

Heading down the street we first came upon a wonderful castle-looking estate over looking the city. We soon found out its the offices of Castel Hill Partners and wondered how they liked being next to a graffiti park?

Fast-forward: When I got back to do some more research on the park, turns out Castel Hill Partners own the land, are land developers and are obviously just waiting to develop it.  I could help but wondered why they aren’t worried about the liabilities associated with letting people climb up and down their property. Somebody could easily get hurt and there are no signs saying, “use at your own risk.”

Jackson Pollock & Graffiti Art

Once we reached the edge it wasn’t as dangerous as the fireman suggested, but yes you have to be careful.  The view of the city was spectacular and the park is a kaleidoscope of colour.  It is definitely more of a graffiti park than a street art park as there are only a few areas where an individual artist’s work has been left untouched. Rather it is just layer upon layer of lines, squiggles and words in a cacophony of random colours - a Jackson Pollock-like mega 3D painting.

This was my favourite spot as you could play with the perspective of the window opening in the concrete foundation.

The intensity can be a sight for sore eyes.

Found this young lady hiding in the shadows. One of the few artworks that hadn't been covered with graffiti. 

Perfect place to sit and chat.

Found this artist putting some final touches on his contribution.

Perfect place to meet friends for a picnic.

The Gallery has many walls to create lots of different galleries. Note you can see the castle in at the top in the background.

This is the proper entrance to the Hope Outdoor Gallery on Baylor St. at 11th St. 

Better Than Public Art

I loved the scale, the energy, unique sense of place and randomness of the Hope Outdoor Gallery (HOG). While we were there a street artist was being interviewed about his work, there were lots of people milling about and even friends having a picnic.  We went by the next day which was a Saturday and it was even busier. It is heaven for urban photographers.

HOG is better than most public artworks that quickly become just a part of the urban landscape and ignored by pedestrians. HOG is an ever-changing artwork that challenges people to literally explore it and to participate.  I have now visited three times and each time I have discovered something new and always there are a dozen of so people actively looking at the art and trying to make sense of it. 

I am thinking it would be a wonderful and weird place for wedding pictures. Hey this Austin, I am thinking it has happened more than once.

If you like this blog, you will like:

Public Art vs Street Art: Calgary, Florence, Rome

Freakn Fun at Freak Alley in Boise

Austin: Kid in a candy store fun!

Every city should have a “must see” candy store!  Until this week my favourite was in downtown Helena, Montana, but now it just might be The Big Top Candy Shop on South Congress in Austin, Texas. 

Everyone, young and old will love its colourful candy/circus theme. Here are some postcard photos of The Big Top Candy Shop....love to hear what you think!

PS. Be sure to scroll to the bottom as there are some surprise candies for adults near the end.

Who can resist a candy shop with the name The Big Top? Not the Everyday Tourist. 

Sit down and enjoy the show.

The store is jam-packed with artefacts and fun displays. It is like a museum.

Doesn't every parent want to have a Gummi Boy!

I hope I never have to meet the Rubber Skin Girl. Yikes!

Love the sense of humour. Laughter is the best medicine. 

Who is up for a double bacon chocolate bar? 

And for dessert how about Fox's Candied Bacon.

Even the ice cream cones are special...this one has a gummi on top.

I don't think these people are ever leaving.

Glenbow: Strokes of Genius?

Everyday Tourist, challenges Calgary's major tourist attractions to have one free admission day per month. 

Posted: February 11, 2016, by Richard White, Everyday Tourist blogger

For several years, I have been advocating the Glenbow should have at least one “free admission” day a month (as do most major museums and art galleries). Kudos to Servus Credit Union for stepping up to sponsor a free “First Thursday Night” program for 2016.

I did not see the cat in this painting until I over heard a young male asking his friends "do you see the cat?" These were young street kids hanging out at the Glenbow, enjoying the art! How great is that?

Yes, the Glenbow is now free from 5 to 9 pm the first Thursday of every month.  From a marketing and branding perspective, this could be a stroke of genius for both Servus and the Glenbow.

Though I missed January’s event, I attended February’s and couldn’t believe my eyes. The Glenbow was packed (people were lined up out the door) with Calgarians of all ages and all walks of life.  It was great. The place was abuzz with a festival atmosphere, very different from the typical, rather subdued vibe at major exhibition openings.

Over 3,500 people visited during that four-hour period (while 3,000 took in January’s First Thursday event). And they weren’t just all there to see Paul Hardy’s blockbuster exhibition “Kaleidoscopic Animalia.” People flocked to exhibitions on all floors.

Glenbow Groupies 

I am also betting these new Glenbow groupies will bring visiting family and friends to the Glenbow in the future, which they didn't do before.  

Visiting "Family and Friends" represent 80% of Calgary's annual tourist market.

Hardy gives a passionate tour to group of very attentive Glenbow visitors on "Free First Thursday" night. 

A Second Stroke of Genius

Whoever came up with the idea of having Calgary fashion designer Paul Hardy be the Glenbow’s artist-in-residence and curate an exhibition using the Glenbow collection should get a big fat bonus check.

As a former art curator, I think this was a stroke of genius. The exhibition is both visually and intellectually stunning. (And having Hardy give a spirited tour himself on First Thursday was icing on the cake.)

This figure from one of Hardy's installations comes straight out of a modern haute couture runway. 

Microscopic Messaging?

It makes connections with everything from Warhol’s Soup Can to the Hudson Bay Company blanket; from nursery rhymes to beastly fetishes. There is surrealism to the exhibition that captured and held everyone’s imagination.  

Hardy's microscopic examination of the Glenbow's collection has indeed resulted in a wonder kaleidoscope of past and present images and relationships. 

Close up of one of Hardy's installations that combines hundreds of art and artifacts from the Glenbow's massive collection into a themed installation.

Armoured Horse, Carousel Horse, Horse Painting, Kaleidoscopic Animalia, Glenbow 

Department Stores Windows & Modern Art

Divided into a series of what looks like early 20th century department store windows (appropriate, given Hardy is a fashion designer), it resonated with me. I have been advocating for years that Calgary’s downtown stores should make better use of their storefront windows as a marketing tool.

Read: Christmas Shopping: The Thrill Is Gone

Look no further than the television series Mr. Selfridge, based on the life of Harry Selfridge, who in 1909 founded the London luxury department store Selfridges that still exists today.  The importance placed on the window displays plays prominently in almost every episode.  I believe early 20th Century department store windows were the precursor to contemporary installation art. 

You gotta love it when there is a synergy in one’s everyday experiences – like when television watching, museum/gallery visits and my interest in contemporary art and artifacts all connect. Bam!

An example of one of the massive department store-like window exhibitions. 

New Kind of Museum

Back in June 2014, I wrote about Glenbow President/CEO Donna Livingstone’s plans to re-imagine the Glenbow with more flexible programming and a greater diversity of perspectives. By God, I think she has done it!

Read: Glenbow: A New KInd of Art Museum

I also enjoyed the “Recent Acquisitions” exhibition, hung quasi-salon style - not quite floor to ceiling, but with several groupings. There was so much to see.  Gone was the “one artwork per wall” approach where there is more blank space than art. And there were some fun surprises - like an early Ron Moppett painting that looked remarkably like a Maxwell Bates.  I love it when I make new discoveries.

Ronald Moppett, "Father Thames II (study), 1983, oil on panel.  Does anybody else see the bird-like figure in the painting that looks strangely similar to the one Hardy created in his exhibition (see photo above).  

Pop Art meets Folk Art, New Acquisitions, Glenbow Museum

A Sense of Place

The “Historical Art from the Glenbow Collection” exhibition was also a treat, reminding me of Calgary’s historic sense of place – something only art can do (for me, anyway).  The same can be said for “Niitsitapiisinni: Our Way of Life, The Blackfoot Gallery.” Both exhibitions were very relevant and timely given the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report.

And for me personally, having recently worked with two guest bloggers on how Calgary might better celebrate its history through better street and place names using First Nations’ language, these exhibitions struck a chord.

Read : Calgary: Mewata Village, Siksika Trail, Makhaban River

You gotta go!

If you haven’t been to the Glenbow recently, you simply gotta go. There is no excuse.  Mark the next Servus Credit Union’s Free Thursday Night (March 3) on your calendar.  

You will not only get to enjoy Hardy’s exhibition, but the new “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven” (opening February 20) that promises to be very enlightening. 

Last Word

Livingstone is ecstatic by the response to the Free Thursday night program, saying that many people were returning again to see the exhibitions when it wasn’t so busy.

I put out a challenge to TELUS Spark, Fort Calgary, Heritage Park and the Calgary Tower – how about designating a free day once a month. If not free, how about Toonie Thursdays or Tuesdays.

If you like this blog you might like:

Telus Spark Sparks Reflection

Denver: Office Tower as Art Gallery

Iconic Canadian art in lobby of Calgary office building

 

TELUS Spark sparks reflection

Shame on me! Why? Because until today (January 26, 2016) I had not visited the stunning TELUS Spark building which opened in October 2011.  In my defense, I have no children. Nor had anybody said to me “you must see TELUS Spark.”  

That is until Erin Christensen, TELUS Spark’s Marketing & Communications Coordinator emailed me an invite last week to ask if I might be interested in doing a blog about their new exhibition, BODY WORLDS Vital.

I jumped at the chance. 

Close up image of the incredible intricacies of the human body. It will be a long time before we forget this exhibition.  Yes in some ways human flesh does  look like bacon.

Architecture 

On a grey winter day TELUS Sparks blends into the sky and the parking lot.

I do love the tension created by the various angular shapes of the building’s exterior seemingly piled on top of each other.  The steel grey skin seems a little dull by day but becomes a wonderful canvas for the nightly illuminated colour show that makes the building look like a brilliant gemstone to those travelling by on the adjacent Deerfoot Trail.  

Once inside the building, it is very bright, open and very functional, not distracting like so many contemporary, “weird & wacky” buildings.  The entrance is spacious and inviting without being overwhelming. I loved the fact that immediately upon entering, the joyous voices of children playing and having fun could be heard.  It was alive.

The gallery spaces also seem spacious and synergistic with the programming and exhibitions.  As a former public art gallery executive director and curator, this is exactly what you want. Kudos to Calgary’s DIALOG architects.

At the entrance I found this strange juxtaposition of shapes, colours, angles and letters. 

Body WORLDS Vital 

TELUS Sparks bills Vital as “One of the world's most ground-breaking travelling exhibitions at Calgary's science centre. BODY WORLDS Vital celebrates the living human body in its optimal state - healthy, vibrant, vigorous and in motion. The exhibition presents the leading health concerns of contemporary times, the causes of these conditions and diseases and ways to prevent or manage them.”

  This human head has an eerie stare. It looks like something Salvador Dali might have done.

This human head has an eerie stare. It looks like something Salvador Dali might have done.

Upfront, they caution visitors this exhibition is not for everyone given the exposure of complete, real bodies including genitalia, prenatal development, (including embryos and foetuses) and on Thursday nights “a representation of sexual intercourse.”

Erin explained that, “we do have a coupling exhibit at BODY WORLDS Vital. It’s open on Thursday evenings starting in February. This includes the Thursdays we have Adults Only Night as well as the Thursdays we are open for extended hours from February to May for all ages.

 

The exhibit is placed in its own room with a door that can be closed. There is carefully placed signage noting that this is a discretionary section. We wanted to make the coupling exhibit available, while also being mindful of our regular family visitors and school groups. We do not have any photos of this exhibit as there is a photography ban put in place by BODY WORLDS on this particular exhibit.”

The exhibition consists of real human bodies that have been skinned allowing viewers to see every bone, muscle, nerve, organs etc.  In many cases, parts of the body cavity have also been “peeled back” so one can see deeper inside.  The end result in many cases is a very abstract perspective on the human body.

This head reminded me of some of the Inuit sculptures I have seen. 

For some, I can imagine this could be very disturbing, hence their wise warning, but for me, I was simply left wondering what all the fuss was about. And, I did not hear anyone gasping in horror at what they saw.  Because of the process called plastination everything looks plasticized; there is no sense of the messy blood or guts, and it all seems very sanitized.  As a former artist and contemporary art curator, it looked more like art than science.  This is not a bad thing.

I loved the athletic shapes the bodies were placed in - from ballet dancer to soccer player – giving them a sculptural sense of shape and form. Some of the cut-aways looked like something by Picasso or his cubist colleagues or works by one of the surrealists artists or maybe the work of an Inuit carver. 

The first full figure you are confronted with is this jumping male ballet dancer in mid-air. The piece is held up by the peeling back of the spinal cord to reveal all of the inner organs and muscles. It is a very powerful piece. 

I spent about 90 minutes in the exhibition and could have spent more.  We’d recommend getting the audio guide as we found many of the information panels a little light on information. However, there is a roving educator on site to answer questions that enquiring minds might have.

Though I am not sure of the scientific or educational value of the exhibition (most of the information being readily available and with videos much more explicit and realistic).

At the same time, it does provide a unique and amazingly 3D visual look at the almost infinite intricacies and complexity of the human body.  

 

 

 

 

 

Up Close And Personal

This close up further documents the astounding/mindboggling complexity and fragility of the human body. 

It was enlightening to see how all of our internal organs fit together so neatly and compactly.  

This is the body of a female gymnast on the pommel horse.

Other On-site Fun

While on-site, I took advantage of the opportunity to quickly explore other parts of TELUS Spark.  I loved the other exhibition areas. And we weren’t alone as there were many enthusiastic (some squealing with delight) children both with their parents and school groups. I was pleased to see lots of Calgary/Alberta-centric information especially on our oil, gas and wind power industries. 

This climbing object is full of climbing "holds." It is very sculptural and can be used by kids of all ages, as well as adults.

What really surprised me was the space and content devoted to young adults and adults.  It was nice to see so many young couples in the galleries on a Tuesday afternoon.  I had been told by parents that TELUS Spark really only appealed to children aged 4 to about 10 and while would agree that is the “sweet spot” for visiting, there is something for almost everyone. 
Erin told me, TELUS Spark routinely attracts 2,000 visitors for their Adult Only nights! We did not take in the films in the Dome Theatre, which would have no doubt added another dimension to our experience.

I love the Top Ten Tips for Saturdays on TELUS Spark’s website which outlines an entire day of activities.  Though it was posted November 2015, I expect it is still valid and might even work for a Sunday.

I was also impressed by the unique outside playground for kids aged 5 and up. It has none of the traditional equipment and seemed a lot more challenging than the colourful, cookie-cutter playgrounds you see around town. I liked the fact that while it would interest toddlers, it would also be challenging and fun for teens, something missing from most playgrounds.

Love this contemporary teeter totter. 

Value For Money

I think you might need a science degree to figure out all of the pricing for TELUS Spark. I have two science degrees and I am not sure I understand it.

Regular Price

Adult (18-64) $19.95 | Senior (65+) $17.95 | Youth (13-17) $15.95 | Child (3-12) $12.95 | Admission for children under 3 is free.

I believe there is normally and additional charge for films in the Dome Theatre but couldn’t find the price online.  I believe that if you want the “full meal deal” and see two films (they are short), the cost for an Adult would be in the $30 range, Senior $25, Youth $20 and Child $18 depending on the film.

BODY WORLDS Vital + other exhibitions + one Dome show

Adult (18-64) $30.00 | Senior (65+) $28.00 | Youth (13-17) $26.00 | Child (3-12) $23.00 | Admission for children under 3 is free.

I won’t even try to explain how the membership works and what is included in the various options. But I expect it is the best deal if you have kids and plan on visiting on a frequent basis.

For context purposes, the regular prices are pretty much in line with similar Calgary venues such as the Calgary Zoo and Glenbow. Scotiabank Theatre Chinook charges $16.25 for a regular film and as much as $24.25 for a D-Box UltraAVX movie (whatever that is).

Gas Exchange - Cross Section of the Thoracic Cavity. 

Last Word

Upon reflection, the best lesson learned from this exhibition is an appreciation for how well my old body works given all the things that could go wrong. 

Erin tells me TELUS Spark is hoping to attract 100,000+ to this special exhibition. If you are into science or art, you are in for a treat.  Body WORLDS Vital is on exhibit at TELUS Spark until May 31, 2016.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Calgary: Military Museums

Paintball: Game or Cult?

Canadian Museum for Human Rights: Money Well Spent?