Calgary Folk Festival Postcards (2016)

2016 seems to be the year of the festival for this everyday tourist.  I was fortunate to be in Austin for their annual kite festival in March. It was one of the best one-day family events I have ever experienced. 

Link: Austin's Kite Festival: Cheap, Colourful & Crazy

Then it was Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo in April, which to my surprise was also a wonderful family event.   Downtown Calgary and Stampede Park turned into a fantasy world of colour and characters like I have never seen before.  

Link: Everyday Tourist Visits Calgary Expo

I was also at the Calgary Stampede on their Family Day, which reminded me how Stampede Park becomes a wonderful urban playground for people of all ages and backgrounds for 10 full days each July. 

Link: Stampede Park: Calgary's Best Children's Playground / Public Art

And just a week later, I spent the weekend on Prince’s Island enjoying the festivities of the Calgary International Folk Festival. 

Musicians and tourists have called prince’s Island one of the best urban festival sites in the world.  Located at the north end of the downtown in the middle of the majestic Bow River, it’s a serene surreal setting with Mother Nature’s the giant cottonwood trees dwarfed by the man made skyscrapers.

The Island’s various hollows and tree clusters create natural places for intimate workshop stages, while the great lawn with the main stage at the western edge of the island is a magical place to listen to music as the sun sets.  The Festival’s final exclamation mark is the children’s lantern parade at the end of each day.

Something magical happens when Calgary Folk Festival takes over Prince's Island.  If you have never been you should add it to your 2017 calendar now – July 27 to 30.  

I hope you enjoy these postcards from this year’s Folk Festival! 

The Performers

The workshop performance by Ian Tyson was one of the highlights of the weekend for me.  It was the definition of "up close and personal." 

Tattoo Fun

Colour & Characters

I actually chatted with this lady. She was so happy I wanted to take her picture. And yes, she made this hat. 

Kids definitely loved the festival.

Kids definitely loved the festival.

There were a lot of hola hoops at the festival....hmmmm...perhaps a Hola Hoop Festival would be a good idea?

There were a lot of hola hoops at the festival....hmmmm...perhaps a Hola Hoop Festival would be a good idea?

This family brought their fishing gear as Prince's Island is in the middle of the Bow River, one of the best trout fishing rivers in the world. 

This family brought their fishing gear as Prince's Island is in the middle of the Bow River, one of the best trout fishing rivers in the world. 

Handholding Is Very Popular 

Calgary Folk Festival: Morning To Night

Morning

Morning

There is a zen-like quality to the Calgary International Folk Festival experience. 

There is a zen-like quality to the Calgary International Folk Festival experience. 

Happy Hour 

Happy Hour 

Early evening

Early Evening

Early Evening

Night 

Night 

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

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

Pescara, Italy: One Damn Good Day!

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

Pescara Italy

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

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

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

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

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

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

MAMAAAAAA!

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

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

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

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

The 4.5 Hour Lunch

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

First course: Appetizers

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

Second course: Pasta

  • Hand made fettuccine in fresh hand made tomato sauce

Third course: More Pasta

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

Fourth course:  Fresh Cheese

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

Fifth course: Delicious Meats

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

Sixth course: ArrosticiniAbruzzesi

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

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

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

  

Diego's Father - arrosticini maste

Diego's Father - arrosticini maste

Industrial grade arrosticini cooking - over 100 at a time

Industrial grade arrosticini cooking - over 100 at a time

Tall Tale Teller?

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

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

Back to the 4.5 hour lunch

Seventh course: More Fresh Cheese

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

Eighth course: Cake from heaven

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

Ninth course: Hand made Gelato and homegrown melon

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

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

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

Mama's  coffee - really needed at this point 

Grappa - the coffee killer

Grappa - the coffee killer

 

Walk It Off!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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.