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.    

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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!

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Hillhurst/Sunnyside: Street Art Fun!

Hillhurst/Sunnyside (H/S) community is Calgary’s equivalent to San Francisco’s Haight–Ashbury - a haven for artists, hippies and hipsters.

While every other community surrounding downtown Calgary has been overtaken by new condos and infill homes (i.e. gentrified), much of H/S still is early 20th century cottage homes and small apartment blocks. Especially Sunnyside (east of 10th Street NW and west of Centre Street bridge).  A walk through H/S is a walk back in time. 

Calgary Street Art

One thing I love about flaneuring H/S is the funky street art you find there - in a back alleys, on abandoned buildings, community centre, schools, the side of a retail building and especially in their container park (Yes, they have a park with sea containers used for various performances and events). 

Every time I wander the community I seem to discover another piece of street art.

Link: Calgary graffiti: The good, the bad and reason it’s not all bad. 

Street Art Calgary

Not Public Art

Street art gained popularity during the graffiti art boom in New York City in the ‘70s.  It was then that graffiti evolved from small scribbles or tags to large murals, mostly with cartoon and fantasy-like characters, some with incredible skill and detail.

Originally, street art was often on blank concrete walls in rundown communities, on train and subway cars in derelict spaces.  Today, street art has become trendy.  It is often done with the approval of the landlord and is sometimes done as an anti-graffiti initative (given graffiti taggers often respect the work of street artists and don’t paint over them). 

Street art is to the late 20th early 21st century what murals by artists like Mexico City’s Diego Rivera were to the early 20th century. However, they will never last as long - often disappearing in less than a year. 

Today’s street art is also not considered to be public art as that artist has not received public funds and it is not sanctioned by a public authority. 

Despite/or in spite of this, street art can become a tourist attraction - if there is a critical mass of quality art for visitors to check out. 

Link: History of Train Graffiti

Link: 10 New York Graffiti Legends Still Kicking (Ass) 

  Yes this is the infamous "Trudeau Finger" on the side of the Hillhurst/Sunnyside Community Centre building.  

Yes this is the infamous "Trudeau Finger" on the side of the Hillhurst/Sunnyside Community Centre building.  

I LUV Street Art why?

Street Art is usually colourful and playful, two key ingredients that appeal to my eye. As well, I love the sense of surprise, as they are often off-the-beaten path, which is synergistic to my love of flaneuring. I also love the immediacy of street art. While the technique can sometimes be refined, most often they are loose, gestural, drawings.

Street Art Calgary

Flashback

I went to NYC in 1982 to experience street art first hand. It was a time when I was an aspiring artist and felt a strong kinship with the work I was seeing in publications like ARTnews (my bible at the time). 

I came back inspired and created a series of graffiti-inspired paintings over the following two years and also organized the Street Art for Gleichen project, which eventually lead to my becoming the Director/Curator of the Muttart Art Gallery (now Contemporary Calgary) for a 10-year stint. 

It was a fun time. Thinking back, exploring those back alleys and vacant spaces of NYC was my first introduction to flaneuring!   

Last Word

Perhaps it is time for someone in to organize an outdoor art (street art, murals and public art) festival that would encourage Calgarians to get out and see, contemplate and question our outdoor art. I'd love to hear what children and teens think of the art. It is not all about just the grown ups!

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Downtown: From Concrete Jungle to Glass Gallery

Recently Thomas Schielke (German architect who works for lighting manufacturer ERCO) wrote a piece for ArchDaily website titled “Veiled in Brilliance: How Reflective Facades Have Changed Modern Architecture.”  I was surprised when he started off his piece with the observation that “modern architecture promoted the monotony of large glass facades that have bored our urban citizens.” He then goes on to talk about how recently more unconventional reinterpretations of the glass façade has create more visually interesting jewel-like buildings.” 

Link: Veiled in Brilliance: How Reflective Facades Have Changed Modern Architecture

He points to Hamburg, Germany’s Elbphilharmonie concert hall designed by Herzog & de Meuron as perhaps the best example of the visionary glass culture in the way the building captures and distorts the perception of the city, water and sky.

The images of Elphi as it is nicknamed are impressive, but I would put Calgary’s collection of sparkling office towers up against any other city’s collection I have seen.

Perhaps we have an unfair advantage as we have more days and hours of sunlight than all most any skyscraper city and we have some of the cleanest air, which creates ideal conditions for sunlight reflections off glass facades.  We also have one of the most dense downtowns in the world with two, sometimes three towers on one block which further enhances the interplay of different architecture, facades and light into playful distortions.

  Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall, Hamburg, Germany by Herzog & de Meuron architects.

Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall, Hamburg, Germany by Herzog & de Meuron architects.

  Calgary's architectural surrealism is evident across its 50+ block downtown core.

Calgary's architectural surrealism is evident across its 50+ block downtown core.

Calgary Advantage 

Perhaps we have an unfair advantage as we have more days and hours of sunlight than all most any skyscraper city and we have some of the cleanest air, which creates ideal conditions for sunlight reflections off glass facades. 

We also have one of the most dense downtowns in the world with two, sometimes three towers on one block which further enhances the interplay of different architecture, facades and light into playful distortions.

Eight Avenue Place, Calgary, Alberta, Pickard Chilton and Gibbs Gage Architects

The Bow, Calgary Alberta, Norman Foster architects. 

My Favourites

Perhaps my favourite is Eight Avenue Place, which changes colour constantly through out the day and year as the sunlight reflects off of the various facades – one minute it is deep blue the next steely grey.

The Bow Tower because of its huge concave surface facing south captures the sky and clouds in unique ways.  The postcard shot is looking up into a blue sky and so the top of the building and sky merge - hence the name skyscraper.

I love to stand on the 9th Avenue side of Bankers Hall’s 9th and how it interacts with Gulf Canada Square’s flat glass surface. 

I also love the way the Calgary Tower gets twisted and distorted in the facades of various buildings, sometimes five and six blocks away.

Bankers Hall silver and gold towers reflected in Gulf Canada Square tower.

Outdoor Art Gallery

Each new building brings a whole new whole new interpretation of our downtown’s sense of place. 

The curved vessel-like shape of 707 Fifth Tower, designed by the highly regarded international architectural firm SOM (they designed the world’s tallest building Burj Khalif Tower in Dubai) is going to create some amazing new artworks. 

As will Telus Sky (designed by world-renowned BIG architects) with its pixelated façade that twists and narrows from the ground to the sky. I can’t wait to see how it interacts with our prairie sky and glass giants (The Bow and Brookfield Place), Suncor Place’s red granite and Bow Valley Square’s four concrete rectangles.

Calgary’s downtown is no longer an ugly concrete jungle, but rather is a playful outdoor art gallery.

Hope you enjoy this exhibition of art from our downtown….

Muncipal Building, downtown Calgary
  Is it just me or does this look like what Lawren Harris would paint if he was trying to capture the spirit of Calgary's urbanism.  

Is it just me or does this look like what Lawren Harris would paint if he was trying to capture the spirit of Calgary's urbanism.  

Last Word

One of the biggest criticisms of downtowns in the 20th Century was that they became ugly concrete jungles.  However, by the ‘90s the emergence of glass facades for office and condo towers changed everything.  Douglas Coupland (Vancouver novelist and artist most famous for his book Generation X) nicknamed Vancouver “The City of Glass” as a result of the multitude of glass condos dominating their skyline by the end of the 20th century.

For decades I have loved the way Calgary’s glass towers capture our big blue prairie sky and neighbouring buildings to create wonderful surrealistic images.

To me it makes our downtown an ever-changing outdoor art gallery. 

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Perhaps my favourite reflective building to date is the EMP Museum in Seattle designed by Frank Gehry.  Not only does it have a wonderful concave and convex facade (inspired by him cutting up a guitar and using the shape of the pieces to create the design of the building) but it also has intense reds and blues also taken from the deconstructed guitar.  This photo captures the Seattle Space Needle peeking out from an ominous shadow.  

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. 

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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

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RED: Calgary's Urban Playground

The importance of the public realm!

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

Austin: An insider's guide!

It’s time to set the record straight. As one of the few remaining natives left in Austin – seriously, we’re like unicorns – I feel it’s my responsibility to share a true local’s guide to the city. I’ve lived here for over 28 years, agreeing to leave only for college and two ill-advised years in Dallas.
If you are thinking of a fun fall, winter or spring North American getaway this year, Austin should be near the top of your list.

Austin has lots of bling....

Editor's Note:

Dacyl Armendariz on a sunny patio in Austin.

When I knew I was heading to Austin earlier this year I asked Dacyl Armendariz, External Communications Manager, for car2go (whom I met at the 2014 Calgary Stampede) if she might have a few insider tips.  She sent me a very comprehensive list of suggestions, that even in two  weeks I couldn't possibly do.  When I asked her if I could post her email to me as a guest blog, she said, "Yes, but I will need to rework it a bit to make sure I have included a few things I left out."  

The following are Dacyl's wonderful insider tips to Austin.  

DA's Insider Tips

If you’ve read any “Best Places to Live” article in the past decade you’ve probably heard of Austin, TX. Apparently people take those lists and their glowing recommendations seriously, because there are now more than 150 people moving to Austin each day in search of breakfast tacos and near-constant warm weather. It would be a Texas-sized understatement to say that the state’s best-kept secret is out.

The influx of newcomers is exciting and is largely responsible for the revitalization of some of Austin’s oldest neighborhoods as well as a booming food scene. But beware – it also means there are hordes of people who just moved here and can’t wait to point you in all the wrong directions based on their limited, albeit enthusiastic, exploration of the city. Bless their hearts – they just want to help. But the truth is, there are too many new Austinites out there who might send you to Guero’s on your quest for the best Tex Mex. My personal sense of Southern Hospitality just can’t allow that.

It’s time to set the record straight. As one of the few remaining natives left in Austin – seriously, we’re like unicorns – I feel it’s my responsibility to share a true local’s guide to the city. I’ve lived here for over 28 years, agreeing to leave only for college and two ill-advised years in Dallas.

I’ve watched Austin evolve from a sleepy city in the middle of Texas to an international destination.

Yes Austin is fun, funky, quirky and many say weird....

I was here before Trader Joe’s was a fixture, I went to the inaugural Austin City Limits Music Festival and I can actually remember a time where traffic on I-35 didn’t convert it to a parking lot.

As much as I love being in Austin, I do travel quite a bit. When I visit a new place my goal is to eat the best food the city has to offer and get a taste of the culture and activities the city is known for. With that approach in mind, the following guide focuses on Austin restaurants, live music venues – we are the live music capital of the world – and a selection of some of our best swimming spots.

If you visit between the months of April through October you’ll understand why there’s a section dedicated to swimming and you’ll thank me. For good measure, I’ve thrown in a few other treasures.

As much as I will playfully beg you not to move here, I really do want you to love my city as much as I do. If you stay away from Guero’s and hit up the spots in my guide instead, I feel confident you will.

 Music Venues

Austin has fun retro element to it....

The Continental Club – 1315 South Congress Ave

An Austin institution since 1957 on one of our best streets. Live music every night.  Expect to hear blues, country, rockabilly and loud rock music here. Make sure to check out The Continental Club Gallery, an upstairs lounge with art, jazz and cocktails. The Gallery doesn’t have clear signage, head a couple of doors north of the main entrance and up the stairs.

The boys can play...

Elephant Room – 315 Congress Ave.

A basement bar where you will find a different jazz combo playing every night. Rarely a cover, always a good crowd.

Broken Spoke – 3201 S. Lamar Blvd

The quintessential Austin honky tonk. Some land developers actually purchased the land where the Broken Spoke is located and threatened to tear it down, but there was an extreme uprising from Austinites and it escaped unscathed. You’ll see the contrast of the new businesses and condos all around this Austin mainstay as evidence. This is a great dive bar where a band plays country music almost every night of the week and they have two-stepping lessons Wednesday – Saturday from 8:30-9:30 for the uninitiated so you can be prepared when the music starts. If you do the dance lessons get there by 8:00 to sign up!

P.S. there are always a handful of regulars – older gentleman who go every night to dance. They are part of what makes the place great so if they ask you to dance be sure to take them up on the offer!

She can sing and dance...

The Mohawk – 912 Red River Street

This is one of the newer venues that have become a favorite for Austinites. The music lineup is eclectic and includes Austin mainstays as well as some of the best musicians passing through town.  

Guero’s Garden Bar – 1412 South Congress Ave.

I know this seems like a confusing recommendation, give the warnings above. I stand by those warnings. Do not eat at Guero’s, no matter how many “Austinites” tell you it’s a must. The food is mediocre at best, but they have a great garden area next to the restaurant where there is always a steady stream of live music. The link above is to the music calendar so you can pick something out. They have a bar out there so you can enjoy a margarita with the free chips and salsa bar provided. This is a popular venue on sunny weekends, get there early to snag a table.

Saxon Pub – 1320 S. Lamar

Saxon Pub has been a fixture of the Austin music scene since 1990. There’s music every night of the week. Expect a cover for the night shows, but there are also free happy hour shows, weekend matinee shows and late night performances.

Austin is full of surprises...

Strange Brew – 5326 Manchaca Rd.

This is a coffee shop, a bit off the beaten path, that also has a lounge where you can find nightly live music. You’ll pay a cover, but you’ll also see some great music in a setting that most tourists miss. I highly recommend it! The link above is for their live music calendar.

C-Boy’s Heart and Soul – 2008 South Congress

A great, slightly divey, bar where you’ll find performances from some of Austin’s best musicians. If the company you keep truly says a lot about you, consider the fact that Gary Clark Jr, Leon Bridges, Larry McMurtry and Jimmie Vaughn are often seen occupying one of C-Boy’s barstools. If you’re headed there for music, check their calendar before you go, they do have the occasional off night, but they have a band in residence playing every Tuesday night and they have live music every Thursday – Saturday like clockwork. Expect to hear blues, rock, country, jazz or soul music. If you are looking for a quieter place to get a drink, head upstairs to their cozy, red-lit lounge for a more intimate vibe.

Green Spaces

Town Lake is actually a reservoir of the Colorado River in Downtown Austin. It was renamed Lady Bird Lake in honor of the late Lady Bird Johnson, but any true Austinite will tell you it’s still Town Lake to them. There’s a beautiful trail with several entry points and spots to rent kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddle boards along the way. Visiting Town Lake is an Austin must.

Lady Bird Lake is a lovely oasis...

Zilker Park – 2100 Barton Springs Rd.

Zilker is our most well-known park. It’s right in the heart of the city with lots of space to roam, ride bikes, lounge, picnic, etc. The park is the site of the Austin City Limits Music Festival each September/October. Town Lake is also part of Zilker Park so you could easily fit both of these Austin icons into an afternoon.

A great time to visit is in early March for the annual Zilker Kite Festival.  The festival attracts hundreds of Autinites who fill the air with colorful kites.
Link: Austin's Kite Festival: Cheap, Colourful, Chaotic & Crazy
  One of the best festivals I have ever attended and its free... .

One of the best festivals I have ever attended and its free....

Zilker Botanical Garden – 2220 Barton Springs Rd.

A beautiful botanical garden in the heart of downtown.

Umlauf Sculpture Garden – 605 Robert E. Lee Rd.

A garden featuring sculpture artwork from a wide array of artists. They also offer events and free yoga.

Mount Bonnell

A great spot for gorgeous views of the city. Be warned there are A LOT of steps to climb to get to this spot – 102 to be exact. If you don’t want to tackle the climb you could also take advantage of the same views with a stop at Dry Creek Cafe & Boat Dock (4812 Mount Bonnell Rd.). The name is misleading, the only food they have are bags of assorted chips and there’s not actually a working boat dock, but this dive bar has a patio that provides the best spot in Austin to watch a sunset. Ignore all those people who tell you to head to the Oasis, that’s where you find a huge crowd, mediocre food and overpriced drinks. Instead, enjoy your view with a $2.00 beer at this dive.

Swimming Holes/Pools

Swimming gets its own section because when it gets hot in Austin – which is most of the year – you don’t want to be outside unless you are in or around the water. Some of these spots are not IN Austin proper, but the ones outside of our city limits are short day trips and totally worth the drive.

City Centre 

Barton Springs Pool – 2201 Barton Springs Rd.

This is my absolute favorite place in Austin. It’s a pool fed from an underground spring with an average year-round temperature of 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit. There are always interesting people here and if you use the South gate entrance (700ish Robert E Lee Rd.) rather than the main entrance (2201 Barton Springs Rd.) you’ll see a collection of colorful Austinites – drum circles, people practicing acroyoga with a partner, hula hoopers and topless sunbathers. Barton Springs is synonymous with Austin. Entrance fee for non-residents of Austin is $8.00, but if you tell them you live in Austin the entrance fee is just $3.00. They never verify residence so you might as well save yourself $5.00 because when you are in Austin you become an honorary resident!

In Austin

Lake Travis or Lake Austin

You can rent boats/jet skis or even hop on a charter boat for a tour. If you’re not in the mood to swim you can also just head to one of the many restaurants/bars that offer beautiful views of these lakes.

 In Dripping Springs (50-minute drive from Austin)

Hamilton Pool Preserve – 24300 Hamilton Pool Rd., Dripping Springs, TX

A gorgeous spot where a lagoon is fed by a small waterfall. It’s about a 15 minute walk down to the water, but it’s worth the effort. If you make the trip be sure to get there early – a limited number of people are allowed in so the lines get long in the afternoon when they start their one in, one out admission.

In Wimberley (45-minute drive from Austin)

Blue Hole – 100 Blue Hole Rd., Wimberley, TX

Hands-down one of the best swimming holes in Texas, Blue Hole is lined on both banks by cypress trees. There’s also a great rope swing if you’re so inclined. Be warned though, the local teenagers grew up on this rope swing and the tricks they perform for their swimming audience could make your attempt scream “rookie.” Blue Hole is open seasonally for swimming so check the website first for the hours.

In Spicewood (45-minute drive from Austin)

Spicewood – 404 Krause Spring Rd., Spicewood, TX

There are 32 springs and two pools for swimming as well as a lovely butterfly garden

Restaurants

The Austin restaurant scene has blown up and there are tons of great choices. The key items to make sure to eat are breakfast tacos (an Austin staple), Tex Mex and Barbecue. Austin is hugely lacking in good Asian and Italian food, so keep that in mind if anyone makes recommendations in that vein.

Breakfast Tacos

If you’re not yet familiar with the glory of breakfast tacos, prepare to be indoctrinated. See below for a list of the best breakfast taco joints in Austin. Don’t forget the salsa – each of the places below have several options to try. Most of these are also great options for lunch/dinner tacos!

**An important note about breakfast tacos – unless you are gluten intolerant, breakfast tacos are meant to be eaten on flour tortillas.

  Tacos are everywhere...

Tacos are everywhere...

Polvo’s – 2004 S 1st

In Austin, Tex-Mex – along with barbecue – is religion. There are tons of places to get your fix, but Polvo’s is my favorite. They have a killer salsa bar with lots of choices of varying heat levels. Make sure to try the queso here – it comes with accoutrements for you to add to your liking. My favorite item on the menu is the fish fajitas, but you can’t go wrong with anything you order here.

An important note about queso – If your previous experience with queso has anything to do with a jar or the description “cheese sauce,” that means you’ve never had queso. You’re about to have your mind blown. Pace yourself.

Other good Tex-Mex options: Tamale House East, Habanero (cash-only), Mi Madre’s, Vivo

For additional inspiration check out Austin Monthly’s recent Ultimate Guide to Tex-Mex

La Barbecue – 1906 E Cesar Chavez

You’ve likely heard of Franklin Barbecue – it’s nationally recognized as one of the very best barbecue places out there. The New York Times just did this story on it. People start queueing up for their amazing brisket starting around 6:00 AM every single morning, but if you want barbecue that’s equally great with a much shorter line, head to La Barbecue. The brisket is mandatory.

Other good barbecue options: Micklethwait Craft Meats, Stiles Switch BBQ, Freedmen’s, Lambert’s

  Austin has an amazing patio culture....

Austin has an amazing patio culture....

Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ – 7612 Brodie Lane

Valentina’s is the house of worship located at the intersection of the tex-mex and bbq religions. The menu spans breakfast, lunch and dinner. You’ll walk away wondering how you’ve lived this long without pairing brisket and traditional taco fillings.

Launderette – 2115 Holly St.

This is my favorite restaurant in Austin right now. Small plates – perfect for sharing – that facilitate trying a lot of the menu in one meal. If you like cheeseburgers, try theirs. It is perfect and simple. When the dessert menu comes fight the urge to order one of the fancier desserts and get the birthday cake ice cream sandwich. You can thank me later.

Uchi – 801 South Lamar

If I had to choose my last meal in Austin it would be the chef’s tasting omakase from Uchi. A sushi restaurant started by now famed chef Tyson Cole, Uchi is an innovative take on traditional sushi. The focus on traditional rolls is diminished in favor of next-level small plates. Please be warned, there is always a wait for this restaurant so make a reservation if you plan to go. Another note of warning – this restaurant is also very spendy, but worth every last penny.

East Side King – Several locations, see website

Originally a food truck opened by Top Chef winner Paul Qui and Moto Utsunomiya (fun fact – both were Tyson Cole’s protégés at Uchi), East Side King now has two locations in Austin that serve the incredible original menu – one food truck at the Liberty Bar and a brick-and-mortar on South Lamar Blvd. The East Side King family also has two recent additions called Thai-Kun that serve a playful Thai menu that is not to be missed - a food truck at the very cool bar Whisler's and brick-and-mortar in The Domain's new "Rock Rose" district.  My favorite of these spots is the original East Side King food truck behind the delightfully divey bar, The Liberty Bar, on East 6th. However, if the idea of sharing a picnic table outside, with a group of hipster strangers who are smoking American Spirits and sipping whiskey doesn’t appeal to you, hit up the brick-and-mortar location on South Lamar.

Dai Due Butcher Shop & Supper Club – 2406 Manor Rd.

Dai Due’s commitment to serving regionally sourced ingredients runs so deep that even the beer and wine list is stocked exclusively with options from Texas. The food is as good as the menu is imaginative and everything tastes like it was prepared just for you by someone who cares. Head here for thoughtful service from knowledgeable servers who act as your guide through the innovative menu.

Contigo – 2027 Anchor Lane

Contigo describes its menu as farm-fresh Texas fare. That’s not all that descriptive, but all you need to know is that the food and cocktails are great and the ambiance is quintessential Austin. What does that mean? It means that all of the seating is outside – only the kitchen is held within four walls. This qualifies as quintessential Austin because it’s warm enough here 95% of the year to get away with that. They have a great Happy Hour including $1 fried chicken on Thursdays starting at 5:00 PM until they run out!

  Austin is great for BBQ...keep your hands off...

Austin is great for BBQ...keep your hands off...

Additional Austin Treasures

South Congress Avenue

South Congress is one of the best streets in Austin. Lined on either side with shops, restaurants, music venues and galleries, you could basically spend a full day walking up and down the street and never run out of things to do. On the first Thursday of each month – aptly called “First Thursday” – the shops stay open until 10:00 PM. My favorite South Congress spots include, but are not limited to:

  We loved all of the vintage neon signs that were scattered around Austin...

We loved all of the vintage neon signs that were scattered around Austin...

 Parts and Labour – a great place to pick up gifts to take back to jealous friends at home, a new eclectic piece of jewelry from a local artisan or some concert artwork from one of the many amazing acts that have performed in Austin. Parts and Labour only sells goods from local Texas artists, designers, etc.

 Jo’s Coffee – stop by to order an “Iced Turbo” and take your photo by the now famous “I love you so much” graffiti on the side of the building. Show up on Sunday from 12:30 – 3:00 to check out their weekly “Sinner’s Brunch” to listen to great (FREE) live music with your coffee & breakfast taco. However, if you want to be true to the name, order a beer along with your coffee.

 Maya Star – this boutique jewelry store stocks one-of-a-kind pieces from some of the most creative designers out there. They also have a selection of adorable clothes and accessories at affordable prices.

 STAG Provisions for Men – stop in and enjoy a free Shiner Bock beer while you peruse their selection of high-end men’s clothing and accessories.

 Big Top Candy Shop – a circus-themed old fashioned candy store and soda shop where you will lose track of time while you’re reminded of all the classic candies you loved as a child.

Link: Austin: Kid In A Candy Store

Big Top Candy Shop is really really big...

Alamo Drafthouse

The world’s best movie theater chain got its start right here in Austin. Book your reserved seats on the website and prepare to enjoy the best movie-going experience of your life. Alamo has a menu of pizza, sandwiches, snacks and an excellent selection of beer and cocktails to enjoy during your flick (servers bring your order during the movie – quickly and silently like ninjas). In addition to showing new releases, Alamo offers screenings of repertory films you never thought you’d see on the big screen and incredible themed events. Think Beyoncé sing-alongs and film themed feasts.

A note about Alamo Drafthouse – this theater was founded with the mission of keeping the film watching experience sacred. If you show up late for your movie you will not be let in (so you can’t disturb everyone who made it on time) and if you talk or text during the movie you will be ejected without a refund. They take these rules seriously – don’t test them.

Harry Ransom Center

Located on the University of Texas at Austin campus (UT), the Harry Ransom Center is a library, archive and museum that exhibits rotating collections of art, manuscripts, photography, etc. Recent collections ranged from art and costumes from Gone With The Wind to a collection of art and correspondence from WWII.

Bonus – if you go to the Harry Ransom Center you’ll also get a chance to check out the UT campus where you’ll see the latest in backpack fashion and ask yourself “did I look this young when I was in college?” no less than 10 times. 

Last Word 

There you have it, Dacyl's insider tips. Enough Said!

  If you go to Austin, be sure to have a car2go membership as it is the best way to get around...transit is not great...

If you go to Austin, be sure to have a car2go membership as it is the best way to get around...transit is not great...

Stampede Park: Calgary's best children's playground?

Call me crazy but I have always thought contemporary public art could make great playground equipment. From time to time I have seen children interacting with public art by climbing, sitting and sliding on it.  Imagine if “Wonderland (aka the big white head)” on the plaza of the Bow Tower was part of a playground and people could climb up and over it. Now that would be exciting public art!

I have talked to some artists and playground designers about my idea of commissioning public art for playgrounds across the city, but always got shot down by them saying, “it would be too expensive and time consuming to get it approved from a safety perspective.”

Until this past Sunday I didn’t realize Calgary already has a wonderful piece of public art that also serves as a playground.  “By the Banks of the Bow” is a giant artwork that includes 15 horses and two cowboys, located in a small park in front of the Agrium Western Event Centre. In the past I have seen families interacting with the piece, but it was nothing like I experienced this year on Family Day at the Stampede.

People of all ages and backgrounds were swarming around what is one of the largest bronze sculptures in North America.  Kudos to the Stampede for not posting signs everywhere saying don’t climb on the sculpture or a fence around keeping people out. 

By the Banks of the Bow 101 (Stampede website)

“By the Banks of the Bow celebrates one of mankind’s greatest living treasures; its wildness and spirit, strength, speed and dependability. It supported the people of the First Nations, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, farmers, town folk, prospectors and adventurers, cowboys and ranchers.

Today the horse retains a pride of place in the Calgary Stampede. In rodeo, the chuckwagon races, the heavy horse competitions or in the show ring, the horse is as iconic as the Stampede itself and is woven into its cultural fabric.

Created by local artists and ranchers Bob Spaith and Rich Roenisch, By the Banks of the Bow is a narrative in bronze that depicts our past, present and future, and reflects the Stampede’s many relationships with our community.”

Fun Facts

  •  From inspiration to installation, the sculpture took four years to complete.
  • The piece was cast in a foundry in Kalispell, Montana.
  •  Ten of the horses represented actually competed at the Calgary Stampede Rodeo.
  • The lead cowboy, Clem Gardner, was the Canadian All Around champion in the first Calgary Stampede Rodeo in 1912.
  • The total sculpture weighs approximately 14,500 pounds (seven tons).

Last Word

It is too bad this type of public art, i.e. art that invites you to interact with it, stop and take pictures of it, isn’t more prevalent in Calgary and elsewhere. 

I also noticed this week the big bronze sculpture of “Outlaw,” the Calgary Stampede’s iconic bull is back on the plaza of 5th Avenue Place but with a big sign saying don’t climb on it.  Too bad…a missed opportunity to add some fun to the downtown experience!

Hmmm…I wonder how I might get some playground public art for Phase two of Grand Trunk Park. The kids would love it!

If you like this blog, you will like these links:

Public Art vs Public Playgrounds

The End Of Grand Trunk Park Playground Envy

Putting the PUBLIC back into public art!

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.

Calgary: Everyday Tourist's Off The Beaten Path Picks

 

When planning trips to other cities, one of the first things we do is Google phrases like: “off the beaten path, hidden gems and best kept secrets.”

You never know what you might find wandering the world's longest elevated indoor walkway in Downtown Calgary. 

With Calgary’s tourist season about to begin, here is the Everyday Tourist’s list of off the beaten path (OTBP) places in Calgary, our hometown for 25+ years.

You should know….

  • We tried to include a diversity of things to see and do that will interest visitors of all ages and backgrounds. 
  • In all cases there is a website link for more information about the place.
  • In several places we included a link to an Everyday Tourist blog for more information about the area.
  • Though for the most part the places are within a few kilometers of Calgary’s downtown, we have ventured a little further afield in a few cases.
  • This blog is in no way trying to underestimate the quality of Calgary’s many well-publicized tourist attractions, but merely offer some lesser known, fun alternatives.
  • Hidden gems are in the eyes of the beholder. Be open to discovering your own OTBP gems while you enjoy ours.

Calgary's Chinese Cultural Centre's ceiling is just one of Calgary's many off the beaten path, hidden gems. 

Most of the OTBP places in this blog are within the boundaries of this map which is 5 km west to east (14th St west side to 15th St east side) and 3 km north to south (from 16th Ave. northside to 25th Ave southside), with north being at the top of the map. Note the community names on this map as they will help locate the OTBP places in this blog.

Downtown

A-mazing +15 Walkway

If you are wandering the streets of downtown Calgary, you can’t miss the +15 walkways (called “plus 15s” by locals); there are 60 of them. “What is a +15?” You might know them as sky bridges i.e. structures that connect buildings over the sidewalks and roads.  Many downtowns have them but Calgary has the most and their name comes from the fact they are 15 feet above the street. Collectively, they create a 20-km indoor walkway that is on par with Montreal’s Underground.

While you won’t see them listed as a tourist attraction, it is great fun to wander the maze of office buildings, shopping centres, hotels, food courts, museums, public art and performing arts centre they connect. The view of Calgary’s modern architecture from the +15 is spectacular.

Despite maps and signage, you are bound to get lost, but that is part of the adventure. Just ask someone and they will be more than please to get you back on track.  Calgarians are very friendly. Link: +15 Map

Link: NYC High LIne vs YYC's +15 Walkway

Yes these are three Dale Chihuly sculptures and there is a huge living wall in the background of the Jamieson Place winter garden on the +15 level.  You can also find things like a real bush plane hanging from the ceiling of the Suncor Energy Centre, a bison skeleton at Sun Life Plaza lobby and much much more. 

Hidden Canadian Masterpieces

Tucked away in the lobby of the Eighth Avenue Place office tower hang paintings by iconic Canadian painters – Jack Shadbolt, Jean-Paul Riopelle and Jack Bush.  A five-piece Shadbolt in the lobby entrance off 8th Avenue is stunning; other masterpieces are located in the elevator lobbies on the main floor. 

While Eighth Avenue Place’s lobby has the most well known artists, the lobbies and plazas of almost every downtown office building (and there are over a 100 of them) have original art.  Downtown is like one giant art gallery.

Link: Iconic Canadian Art Hidden In Downtown Calgary Office Building

The Chocolate Lab

While exploring Calgary, you will surely find some of our many chocolatiers – Chocolatier Coppeneur (Stephen Avenue), Epiphanie Chocolate (11th St SW) and Olivier’s (Inglewood), the latter being one of Canada’s oldest chocolate and candy makers. 

But hidden (unless you go to Chinatown which you probably should do) is The Chocolate Lab in a tiny space at 202D Centre Street E.  Here you will find some of the best works of chocolate art in the city.  The artisan bonbons would make a tasty souvenir of Calgary - my personal favourite being “Scotch on the Rocks.”

Reaching for some colourful samples seconds....yummy!

Udderly Art Cow Pasture

Every downtown needs a fun place or two. In Calgary, one is the Udderly Art Cow Pasture (located on the +15 level of the Centennial Parkade along 9th Avenue between 6th and 5th Streets SW.) Here are a dozen cows put out to pasture from the 100+ cows that invaded Calgary in the year 2000.  The Pasture’s enormous information panels provide fun facts about Calgary’s biggest and best public art project to date - Udderly Art: Colourful Cows For Calgary. 

Link: FFQing In Downtown Calgary's Udderly Art Pasture

The +15 hallway of the Centennial Parkade is home to some strange looking dudes.  

NW of Downtown

Riley Park

A lot is written about Calgary’s great parks, from the big ones like Fish Creek and Nose Hill to the island parks - Prince’s and St Patrick. But as for the best OTBP park, we recommend Riley Park. Sundays are a great day to visit (but any summer day is good) as you can not only enjoy the Burns Memorial Rock Gardens and the kids’ wading pool action, but you can sit back, relax and watch a game of cricket.  The children’s playground in the southwest corner is always animated

There are lots of picnic tables and the Sidewalk Citizen Bakery across the street from the Safeway next to the Second Cup on 10th Street makes great sandwiches to go.

Riley Park is a wonderful urban oasis. 

SAIT

The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology’s campus is worth exploring for those into architecture as it has a wonderful combination of old and new architecture.  Check out the stately 1912 Heritage Hall, with its many vintage murals in the staircase, and then head over to one of the funky new buildings and the stunning parkade.  Yes, you must check out the parkade with the soccer field on top, that also offers a spectacular view of Calgary’s downtown skyline and the Rockies.  

Link: Calgary's Stunning Parkades Get No Respect!

The SAIT Campus is funky mix of old and new architecture. 

Hillhurst Flea Market

For over 40 years, the Hillhurst Community Centre has hosted a year-round Sunday (7am to 3 pm) flea market which, in the summer, overflows onto the courtyard outside. You will find a plethora of characters selling everything from books and records to antiques and collectables.  It is where we found many of the vintage Fisher Price toys for our collection.

The people watching is almost as much fun as the treasure hunting at the Hillhurst Flea Market. 

Crescent Height StairMaster 

For the billion-dollar view of Calgary and a bit of exercise, check out the Crescent Height stairs.  Find them just north of the pedestrian bridge over the Bow River and Memorial Drive at the north entrance to Prince’s Island.  At the top of the stairs (there are 167 by the way), you will be rewarded with a spectacular view of the Bow River valley, the Rocky Mountains and the downtown skyline.

And fitness fanatics might want to take the Olympic Challenge.  The steps are divided into 11 flights and while for most people, once is enough, but for Olympians, NHL and CFL players can do them 10 times in under 17 minutes. Give it a try.

The Crescent Height StairMaster is a great way to get your heart pumping and get a great view of Calgary's stunning skyline, river valley and mountains. 

Aquila Books

Who would think the non-descript little building with the blue awning on the Trans Canada Highway (aka 16th Ave N) is home to one of North America’s - if not the world’s - great antiquarian bookstores?  Aquila specializes in books dealing with Polar Expeditions, Western Canadiana, Mountaineering and the Canadian Pacific Railway.

It is as much a museum as a bookstore with antique maps, prints, photos, letters, postcards and scientific instruments. It even has an authentic Inuit kayak hanging from the ceiling.  Bibliophiles will want to do a “long browse” here!

Link: Flaneuring The Trans Canada Highway

Everything at Aquila is carefully curated for the serious book collector.  Note the two Inuit kayaks hanging from the ceiling. 

Livingstone & Cavell Extraordinary Toys

The buzzword of upscale retailers these days is to say they offer a “curated” collection. But when it comes to Livingstone & Cavell, it is more than just a buzzword. Owners Donna Livingstone (CEO, Glenbow Museum) and Edward Cavell have both been museum curators for decades.  Drop in and see their collection of toys for all ages – it truly is exceptional!

Livingstone & Cavell is simple charming. 

South of Downtown (Beltline/17th Ave)

Secret Heritage Trail

While Calgary downtown’s Stephen Avenue (8th Avenue SW) is a National Historic District and Inglewood’s 9th Avenue (Atlantic Avenue) has an official historical Main Street designation, 13th Ave SW between 2nd Street SW and 9th Street SW is a wonderful “walk back in time.” Calgary’s first school, Alberta’s first library and many more historical gems are yours to discover.

LInk: Discover Calgary's Secret Heritage Trail

Calgary is known as the Sandstone City, the Collegiate Institute built in 1908 is just one of many elegant sandstone buildings from the early 20th century. 

Stampede Art Park

Even if you are not in Calgary during the 10 days of Stampede, you should still visit Stampede Park to check out the many murals and sculptures and the new ENMAX Park.  If you are lucky, the Corral might be open allowing you to wander the museum-like hallways, full of historical photos.

If you go, check out The Grain Academy & Museum, located in the BMO Centre on the Plus 15 level (open Monday to Friday from 10 am to 4 pm).  Also, the walls of the +15 walkway from BMO Centre to Saddledome are lined with Stampede Posters dating back to 1912.  Kids will love the huge goalie mask on the side of the Saddledome’s NE entrance too.

Link: Stampede Park: Art Gallery / Museum

Stampede Park features 20 major public artworks. More info: Stampede Park Art Walk

Village Ice Cream

Not to be confused with Village Beer (which you should also try), Village Ice Cream’s flagship location is definitely “off the beaten path.” Its entrance and teeny, tiny patio is located in a parking lot of a non-descript building on 10th Ave. where it dead-ends at 4th St. SE.  The artisanal, small batch, hand-made ice creams are not to be missed. Our favourite is the salted caramel.

Village Ice Cream's tiny patio is soooooJ cute!

Heritage Posters & Music

Although Inglewood’s Recordland has one of the largest collections of vinyl in Canada, for my money I think Heritage Posters & Music is the place to hunt for vinyl (20,000 records are on site at any given time) and that rare poster you have always wanted. It is still settling into its new location, but we are told they have plans to make the exterior as eye-catching as the last.  Backstory: Its previous location had exterior walls decorated with thousands of records, the Rolling Stone’s toque street art and a mural of Calgary blues man, Tim Williams.

Just a few of the records available at Heritage Posters & Music.  When you get there be sure to look up as there are posters on the ceiling.  

11th Street Design District

When doing your research, you will undoubtedly learn about Kensington Village, 17th Avenue and 4th Street as Calgary’s best pedestrian streets.  But for those who like “everything design,” 11th Avenue SW (4th Street to 8th Street) is the place to go.  Here you will find several contemporary art galleries, as well as furniture and home accessory stores and the always-buzzing The Camera Store (worth checking out even if you aren’t a camera buff – check out the photography books section for great deals). Metrovino is a great wine and spirits shop tuck away in the back Paul Kuhn Gallery block. 

The Camera Store is always bustling with people, the staff are friendly and knowledgeable. 

Gravity Pope

Calgary has many independent fashion boutiques, but for our money, the one with the best space is Gravity Pope at the west end of 17th Avenue.  Not only are the fashions and footwear funky and quirky, so too is the space.  On a sunny day the place glitters with sunlight pouring through the skylights and bouncing off the mirrors and displays.  It is somewhat akin to entering a psychedelic dream.

Gravy Pope is fun, funky and quirky. 

East of Downtown

Bridgeland Market is a walk back in time. 

While most of the current attention on Calgary’s urban transformation is on the mega makeover of East Village, go a little further east and north (through the lovely new St. Patrick’s Island Park) across the river to Bridgeland (formerly “Little Italy”). Check out Lukes Drug Market (not your average drug store), Bridgeland Market, Blue Star Diner Whitehall Restaurant and Cannibale (barber/bar). 

The streets of Bridgeland are well worth wandering with their many churches and mix of older cottage and new infill homes.  Backstory: Calgary is the infill home capital of North America. For the past 15+ years literally hundreds of small mid-century homes being torn down each year to make way for new two and three storey mini-mansions mostly for young families.

Lukes is popular with Calgary hipsters as it has a popular coffee bar, sells records, record players and fashions.  Yes is is also a drug store and the basement is a mini-grocery store.  And each year it hosts a pre SLED Island festival party - it is very cool. 

Those interested in contemporary art shouldn’t miss the Esker Foundation Contemporary Art Gallery on the fourth floor of the funky Atlantic Avenue Art Block in Inglewood. This privately-owned gallery functions as a public art gallery (free admission) with thought-provoking curated exhibitions in a space that is an amazing work of art itself. It is a great place to start exploring the community of Inglewood.

Just around the corner sits Crown Surplus Store, a family-operated business since 1955.  Here you will find everything from military uniforms, tents, camouflage nets and helmets to great outdoor wear jam packed into a well-weathered wooden Quonset building.  It is a popular place for film and TV producers to shop.  Cher is also known to shop here when she is town.

Fairs’ Fair Books opened its flagship location in the basement of 1336 9th Street in 1988. Since then has sold over one million used books in its five locations.  The Inglewood location with its 9,000 square feet and 200,000 books is a major league used bookstore.

Calgary's Crown Surplus Store is a wonderful collage of artefacts, fashions and collectables. A must see. 

Renowned Calgary interior designer Alykhan Velji along with Kelly Kask, owner of Reclaimed Trading Company are passionate about salvaging and reclaiming materials from “off the beaten path” sources from OTBP places in the Prairies and BC.  Link: Ramsay is Rad!

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

Carly’s Angels is a riotous drag show has been running for over a decade in Lolita’s Lounge. This intimate OTBP place is for serious vacation planner, as you must book two to three months ahead to get tickets. (Note the Carly takes a hiatus for part of the summer).

Reclaimed Trading Company is a treasure hunter's dream spot. 

Rest Stops

When you think of cities with a robust café culture, Seattle and Vancouver likely come to mind.  Not to be outdone, Calgary’s café culture has also been thriving since the ‘80s with original coffee houses like Roasterie and Higher Ground (both in Kensington) and Café Beano (on 17th Avenue) still very popular with the locals. 

The new kids on the coffee block include Analog Coffee (17th Ave), Phil & Sebastian (East Village), Caffé Rosso (Ramsay), Gravity Espresso & Wine Bar (Inglewood), Vendome Café (Sunnyside), Purple Perk (Mission), Kawa Espresso Bar and Bumpy’s Café (both in the Beltline).

Note: In 2014, BuzzFeed ranked Analog 7th in a list of 25 Coffee Shops Around The World You Have To See Before You Die.  

And Alforno Café and Bakery is Calgary’s newest, coolest place to chill. It is located downtown near the Peace Bridge at 222-7th Street SW.

Calgary has some of Canada’s best restaurants. Calgary has placed one or more restaurants in enRoute Magazine’s best new Canadian restaurants almost every year since this award’s inception ten years ago.  In 2015, Calgary’s Pigeonhole restaurant was their #1 restaurant. Pigeonhole’s sister restaurant Model Milk on 17th Avenue (which placed #2 in 2012) has a wonderful Sunday Supper. For $40/person, you’ll leave comfortably full after a great family-style meal that is different every week. (Warning: the regular menu is not offered on Sundays.)

Sunday Supper is also served up at The Nash in Inglewood for $39/person.  It includes an appetizer, a main course and scrumptious dessert.  (Note: The Nash’s sister restaurant NOtaBLES (Montgomery) is a great “off off the beaten path” place to dine.)

And if you “miss” Sunday Supper, know that all these restaurants are very good choices any day of the week.  You might also want to visit: 

Link: Calgary Herald: John Gilchrist's Top New Restaurant 2015

Calgary is working very hard to become a music city. It hosts some great music festivals – Calgary International Folk Festival, SLED Island, X Fest, Honens International Piano Competition and International Blues Festival.  It even has a Music Mile (from the east end of downtown to Inglewood along 9th Avenue there are 20 venues that over live music Thursday to Sunday).

For blues lovers, Calgary offer three great Saturday afternoon jams. Take in all three if you start at the Blues Can at 3 pm, which is hosted by Tim Williams, 2014 winner of the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, then take a short walk to the Ironwood at 4pm and finally catch a short cab ride to Mikey’s Juke Joint at 5 pm (or do the reverse).  All are great places to stop for an afternoon beverage, listen to some great music and have a bite to eat (the food is good). If you are not around on Saturday, they all have live music in the evening seven days a week.

Tim Williams is Calgary's blues man. You can catch  him most Saturday afternoons at the Blues Can or Tuesday night at Mikey's. 

Outside the City Centre

 Museums

There is lots of tourist information about the Glenbow, Fort Calgary and the new National Music Centre, but two OTBP museums we’d recommend are The Military Museums of Calgary just off of Crowchild Trail SW and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame just off the Trans Canada Highway. 

The Military Museums of Calgary, the second largest military museum in Canada, is a moving experience for anyone, any age, with lots of interesting stories and artefacts including a piece from the World Trade Centre that collapsed in 2011.  For Canadians, the museum is a poignant reminder of the incredible and important role our country played in both WWI and WWII.

The Canada Sports Hall of Fame is a comprehensive look at the accomplishments of Canadian athletes not only in mainstream sports like hockey, football, baseball, basketball and lacrosse, but also in the Olympics and minor league sports. Hands on activities make it great “edutainment” for all ages.

Link: Calgary Military Museum Fun

The Calgary Military Museums has not only a great collection of military items, but there are great story boards and videos. 

Cyclists love downtown Bowness

Avid cyclists should get to Bowness Cycle (an easy 25 km ride from downtown), which might just be the world’s largest cycle shop.  And, while in downtown Bowness, check out Cadence Café, Undercurrent and the WINS Thrift Store.

Link: Could Calgary have the biggest bike shop in the world?

Bow Cycle is 50,000 square feet on two floors. It is sight for sore eyes. 

Hikers love Douglas Fir Trail

Calgary boasts over 800 km of pathways, but the Douglas Fir Trail is special. It is the most easternly place the majestic Douglas Fir grows in Canada.  The Trail is located on the south shore of the Bow River just east of Edworthy Park.  Once the trail, it is hard to believe you are still in the city. It offers great views of downtown and is only 6 km away. 

Last Word

Though it is impossible to create the definitive list of “Off The Beaten Path” things to see and do in Calgary, we hope this blog will help you discover Calgary’s unique sense of place.

And if you find a hidden gem while exploring Calgary that you think we should add, let us know. We do plan to update the blog as we find more OTBP gems.

Last updated: June 14, 2016

Hamilton's Art Crawl is indeed super!

For the past 20+ years art galleries across North America have been creating annual art walks, First (or Last or Second) Thursday (or Friday) events as a means of encouraging the public to come out and experience the local visual art scene.  I have experienced dozens of them across North America, but nothing had prepared me for what I would experience on Friday May 13.

May 13, 2016 was a lucky day for me - I got to experience Hamilton’s Art Crawl and event that takes place the second Friday of every month along James Street North (JSN).  I have visited JSN for several years, watching it evolve from a street stuck in the ‘40s and’50s to a quirky street of quirky, cool street of eclectic galleries, restaurants and boutiques, void of the usual revitalization gentrification. 

It is indeed a crawl along the James Street South's sidewalks during Art Crawl. 

James Street North's Art Crawl Maker's Market is located in front yard of Christ's Church Cathedral.  I was surprised that there was a service going on during the Art Crawl.  

Jane Jacobs would love James Street North with all of its tiny shops offering a diversity of things to see and do. 

No Gentrification 

There is no Starbucks, no Tim Hortons, no Shoppers Drug Mart, no boutique hotel or new condos. Instead, the former “Little Portugal” is being repopulated by new “mom and pop” businesses.

The tipping point for JSN’s comeback was in 2005 or 2006 (nobody is quite sure the exact date), when a couple of the new art galleries that had opened up decided to stay open late on the second Friday of every month.  The experiment was popular and it has just built from there.

Facebook: James Street South Art Crawl

Hamilton Jewellers has been on James Street South for over 70 years.

Colourful storefronts and street adornment create a funky hip pedestrian experience along James Street North. 

Morgenstern's department store is a walk back in time to the '40s and '50s. 

Mulberry's Coffeehouse is JSS's signature cafe and patio. 

Ghost town to Extravaganza

Earlier that day, my Mom and I wandered JSN, which was pretty much deserted, but as we left late in the afternoon, we could saw people starting to arrive with tables and artwork.  My Mom said, “Oh, I forgot. Tonight is Art Crawl.”  Lucky my Mom lives just a few blocks away so later that evening (9 pm to be exact), I headed down to check it out. 

As soon as I crossed Main Street (two blocks away) I heard the urban buzz of people chattering and street music. Quickly, I was engulfed in one of the best sidewalk ballets I have experienced anywhere.  I estimate 15,000+ people were wandering up and down the sidewalks, checking out the street vendors, going in and out of shops and stopping to listen to some of the busker music and dancing. It was like I was back on the streets of Mexico City. There was a fun festival spirit that isn’t usually associated with art walks which usually attracts the reserved, wine-sipping sophisticates.

I couldn’t believe how the sleepy street had been transformed from an afternoon ghost town to evening extravaganza.

This fun chair created a fun urban playground during Art Crawl. 

One of the many art galleries along James Street South. 

Art Crawl offers a wonderful diversity of art. 

The art ranges from contemporary to decorative. 

SuperCrawl 

In September, JSN is closed to traffic for the annual SuperCrawl which attracts over 100,000 people to a weekend festival of visual art and music that is a smash-up of local and international artists.

The transformation of JSS from Little Portugal to a hip arts district has not gone unnoticed. It has captured the attention of New York City-based Projects For Public Spaces (founded in 1975 by William Whyte, author of the seminal public spaces book “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces”) as one of best examples of how artists and art can transform a neglected space into something special. 

These ladies just had to dance to the music. 

The proud owner of a new painting just had to have his picture taken with his new acquisition. 

Last Word

If you are in the Hamilton area on a second Friday, I strongly encourage you to take in JSN Art Crawl.  And if you are into the visual arts, music and fun festivals, mark your calendar to be in Hamilton September 9 to 11, 2016. 

Indeed, Hamilton is more than Tim Hortons and the Ti-cats!

Street art adds another dimension to JSS's reputation as one of Canada's best art districts. 

It's Easy To Be An Everyday Tourist!

You don't have to try that hard to be an everyday tourist wherever you live.  You just have to get out and walk with a bit of curiosity and your eyes wide open.   

This week's highlights included:

  • An early morning walk in River Park with the morning sun glistening off the Bow River.
  • A dog walk with Rossi to the base of the Glenmore Dam
  • A trip to Evergreen to get my income taxes done
  • Downtown flaneuring
  • Walking home from yoga enjoyed a lovely evening chinook from the West Hillhurst bluff
  • A spectacular sunset from my backyard
  • Wandering Bowness Park
  • A morning walk in my community
  • Reading Jan Morris' book "Hong Kong" published in 1997

Here is my Everyday Tourist Week in photos....hope you enjoy.

Early Saturday morning walk with Rossi in River Park looking down on the sun glistening off the Elbow River. It was magical. 

With Calgary's early spring there are these lovely rag dolls everywhere. 

Sunday Rossi and I decided to go for along walk that took us to Calgary's Glenmore Dam, which use to have cars driving on top of it, but today it is a wonderful pedestrian bridge. 

Water rushing out of the Glenmore dam. 

Glenmore dam was built in 1932 for $3.8 million.  It has wonderful Art Deco elements. 

Found this debris still wrapped around a tree from the 2013 flood. 

These rocks haunted me with the way the light was reflecting off of them. 

A trip to the community of Evergreen to drop off paper work for income tax resulted in this photo. 

I am always amazed at what new things I can find when wandering downtown.  This fancy fence is part of a temporary plaza on top of the underground parkade where the York Hotel use to sit. The patterns on the fence are taken from the decorations on the facade of the hotel. 

Construction Impressionism in downtown Calgary.  For me downtown Calgary is just one big outdoor art gallery. 

Window licking collage in downtown Calgary. 

7th Avenue surrealism in downtown Calgary 

3rd Avenue downtown Calgary 

I had no idea I had captured this woman in this photo when I took it.  At the time I was cursing that the windows were dirty and I couldn't get clean reflections. Now I love the ambiguity of the narrative that this image suggests. Urban surprises come in many different ways. 

Coming home from yoga I notice the Chinook Arch forming in the west and decided to detour to the West Hillhurst bluff (aka dog park) to get a better view. I never get tired of Calgary's iconic cloud formation. 

While in the park I found this huge tree branch, which ironically mirrored the Chinook Arch formation.  What a great idea for public artwork?

Just a few blocks from my house I found this Horse Head tree swing.  For some reason it seemed very disturbing. (not that there is anything wrong with that) If you like this image you might like Front Yard Fun blog.

Also just a few blocks away is a house where the porch has become a bike rack. I love the fact that my community is filling up with young kids. 

Looking forward to Bowness Park this summer. It will be like a walk back in time with the renovations. 

One night as I am watching the NHL playoffs I notice a bright yellow light shinning in my backyard.  When I went outside this is what I found. 

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. 

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Thrifting Fun in Victoria B.C.

One of our favourite things to do when visiting a new city is to check out the thrift stores.  We are regularly rewarded with discovering new and upcoming neighbourhoods as thrift stores are often located in old grocery or larger retail stores in strip malls in communities on the edge of the city centre that are being repopulated by hippies, hipsters, yuppies and artists i.e. those who love thrifting.

Probably our most surprising location for a thrift store was in Hong Kong - don’t remember the name of the street, but we were barely out of our hotel and on the street to beginning flaneuring and there was a Salvation Army beaconing us in. 

However, the best city for thrifting in our experience has to be Victoria, B.C., Canada.  Brenda says it is because the city is a mecca for older people who are downsizing and university students who are always buying things and then moving away. We especially love the great artworks we find and think it is due to those who are downsizing, as well as art students at the University of Victoria who can keep everything that they create and retirees who take up art as a hobby in their later years.

 Abstraction by R. Sylvester was purchased at Super Chance, nicely framed and matted. (29" x 20" framed) $90.00  

Abstraction by R. Sylvester was purchased at Super Chance, nicely framed and matted. (29" x 20" framed) $90.00  

We love thrifting in Victoria because there are so many stores within walking or short bus ride of downtown.  We have also noted over the years the quality and presentation of goods is higher in Victoria than in other cities we have visited.  Many of the thrift stores are more like boutiques than a second hand store, especially the WIN store (no relation to WINS in Calgary) in Cook Village. 

The mother lode of thrift stores in Canada and perhaps North America has to be the Value Village in Victoria’s Chinatown.  It is a huge store (not sure if it is the biggest Value Village in the chain but it is the biggest and busiest we have experienced) that is full of clothing, housewares, books, records and great art. It is always busy and thus the product moves fast so we often will visit a couple of times if we are in town for a week or so. 

Value Village, the motherlode of thrift stores, in Victoria, BC

Art Collecting Fun

One of our goals when visiting a new city is to find a new artwork for our collection of thrift store art that now numbers 23 pieces.  I am not sure but I think this may have started many years ago in Victoria - golf fish canvas from Value Village. On our last visit in the spring of 2015 the Value Village had a least a dozen abstract expressionism work both large and small for under $100.  I was tempted to buy a large 40” by 30” piece but Brenda talked me out of it and so I finally settled on a small 10” by 8”piece.  

Usually our first stop in Victoria is to Value Village to check out the art, followed by the Super Chance consignment store (with thrift store prices) in St. James Village, which is a must visit for thrifters as it always has a good selection of art.  We are rarely disappointed.  In one case I bought an artwork by Joe Plaskett, titled “Hakim Paris” in one thrift store and then commissioned Super Chance to sell it for me. My first quick flip!

Untitled, Kimball, 1962, purchased at Kilshaw's Auctioneers for $10, (29" x 25" framed canvas)

Thrill of the Hunt

The fun thing about thrifting is the thrill of the hunt - you don’t even know what you are hunting for until you see it.   Brenda’s tastes are much more eclectic than mine, she is could spend hours searching the back of every shelf and the bottom of every bin for that special treasure that some other picker has missed. 

Untitled, unknown artist, purchased at Super Chance $60 (framed, 20" x 14")

 

 

Brenda’s finds this last Victoria trip were:

 

  • A 1950s dime holder made by the B&R (no relation) Manufacturing Co. of New York bought at WIN Resale Shop for $1.95
  • A charming 1937 cardboard“learn to type” fingering diagram that you prop up in front of a typewriter keyboard, that is very fun.  $2
  • Children’s Metal Shoe Size Measurer for $4
  • Set of 3 vintage nesting teak snack bowls circa 1940s for $3
  • Framed unused Tuck’s Postcard (printed in England) for $.99 Vintage, women’s off-white, long Max Mayers gloves for $3
  • Small, brand new, yellow Moleskin notebook $.99
  • Some of the things she will keep for a while and add to her various vignettes in her office, others she will resell at her annual vintage garage sale.

List of Victoria Thrift stores:

Downtown

  • Beacon Community Thrift Shop, 715, Pandora Ave.
  • Salvation Army Thrift Store, 525, Johnson St.
  • Value Village, 1810 Store St.
  • Women In Need, 785 Pandora Ave.
  • St. Vincent de Paul, 833 Yates Ave

On the edge of Downtown

  • Bible 4 Missions, 2520 Government Street
  • Women In Need, 1803 Cook St.
  • Super Chance, 435, Simcoe Street,
  • Oak Bay United Church, 1355 Mitchell St

Bus Ride Away

  • Salvation Army, 3934 Quadra
  • Salvation Army, 1551 Cedar Hill Cross Road
  • Pickers 3948 Quadra
  • Beacon2723 Quadra

Auction Houses

  • Kilshaw's Auctioneers, 115 Fort Street
  • LUNDS Auctioneer, 926 Fort Street 
  Untitled, unknown artists, Value Village find spring 2015 $15 (10" x 8")

Untitled, unknown artists, Value Village find spring 2015 $15 (10" x 8")

Last Word

Thrifting is not only a fun way to find a unique souvenir of your visit to any city, but also a great way to find some hidden gem authentic communities to explore and not just the tarted up touristy places and spaces. 

We have even found an upscale thrifty hotel (yes, there is such a thing).  The Red Lion Hotel Victoria at 3366 Douglas St. is well located not only for thrifting, but for cycling as the Galloping Goose Trail is at the back door and shopping (Uptown and Mayfair shopping malls are just a few blocks away).

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