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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Mexico City: Full Of Surprises

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Austin is more fun than weird

Calgary vs Austin / 17th Ave vs South Congress

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17th Avenue's gravitypope shop is dazzling. 

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

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

Entertainment a key element for tourists

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

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

Calgary's 17th Avenue has vibrant patio culture. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating Vitality

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

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

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

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

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

ATB Financial, 17th  Ave Calgary

Who needs density?

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

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

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

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

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

Streetscape Improvements

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

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

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

Last Word

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

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

If you like this blog, you will like:

Austin vs Calgary: Sister Cities?

RED: Calgary's Urban Playground

The importance of the public realm!

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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. 

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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Glenbow: Strokes of Genius?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glenbow Groupies 

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

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

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

A Second Stroke of Genius

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

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

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

Microscopic Messaging?

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

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

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

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

Department Stores Windows & Modern Art

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

Read: Christmas Shopping: The Thrill Is Gone

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

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

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

New Kind of Museum

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

Read: Glenbow: A New KInd of Art Museum

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

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

Pop Art meets Folk Art, New Acquisitions, Glenbow Museum

A Sense of Place

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

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

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

You gotta go!

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

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

Last Word

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

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

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Postcards from "Buffalo The Bold"

With the advent of cell phone/camera, I doubt (with the exception of Postcard Willie who has taken the art of postcard writing to a higher level) many of you send postcards to family and friends when travelling anymore. Why would one?

Though postcards are relatively cheap, the postage is not – case in point we paid $3 last year to mail one from Italy to Calgary - and half the time you arrive home before the post card.  It is hard to compete with free and immediate photos and messages via texts, emails, tweets and instagrams. But the problem with these generic images is people glance at them once, often never to be looked at again. On the flipside, the great thing about postcards is they are often kept for months, years and sometimes even decades.  I see my photos as custom postcards, images of the off-the-beaten path, hidden gems we find when prowling the streets and alleys of a cities we visit.

Recently, we had a chance to spend three days in Buffalo, New York. We loved it - especially the history, the architecture, the food, the beer, the art and the renaissance.  There is a unique urbanity to Buffalo that makes it true to itself and not trying to be like everyone else. There is an compelling contrast between the modest working class homes and the majestic mansions, between the brutalist architecture of cement grain elevators and the art deco design of their City Hall. There is subtle boldness to Buffalo’s early 21st century renaissance that it beginning to match the City’s heyday a century ago.

I hope you will enjoy these everyday tourist postcards of “Buffalo The Bold.”

Douglas: Jim Hodges, Look and See, sculpture creates a wonderful Matisse like cut-out abstract shapes of sky, architecture and sculpture. You would love it.  Cheers! R

Charles: WOW, this paper sculpture hangs from the top of one of the abandoned grain elevators. You could easily miss it if you didn't look up. The silo tour was definitely a highlight of our visit. RnB (just found out these are paper gears created by Daniel Seiders a landscape architect for the City of the Night public art show in 2013) 

Mom: You would have loved Henry Hobson Richardson's (father of the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style) mega state-of-the-art Buffalo State Assylum for the Insane in 1872 and opened in 1880. It is currently being converted into Hotel Henry: Urban Resort Hotel & Conference Centre and Buffalo Architecture Museum. Love Richard

Knox: You would love these canoes by Nancy's Rubins. The real title"Stainless Steel, Aluminum, Monochrome I, Built to Live Anywhere, at Home Here" seems pretentious. Can you say pretentious? Roscoe 

Don: A pay phone as an art gallery with iPad fireplace can be found at Hydraluic Hearth Pizza and Brewery in Larkinville. The food and beer was good too. RW

Ashley:  I think this fun, funky, quirkly Elmwood Laundry would be fun for you and Knox to check out.. R

Judy: Yes there are buffalos in Buffalo, this one is on the iconic Post Office Building. So many great turn of the century buildings. You would love it here.  R

Chris: The kids would love these bikes.  Buffalo is a great winter city. Everyone loves ice biking at Buffalo's Canalside skating rink - the size of three NHL rinks. They even have a Tim Hortons' across the street. R

Chris: The kids would love these bikes.  Buffalo is a great winter city. Everyone loves ice biking at Buffalo's Canalside skating rink - the size of three NHL rinks. They even have a Tim Hortons' across the street. R

C:  You would love COOCOOU27 salvage warehouse. This postcards says it all...wish you were here. R

Barbara: Loved the Martin House. The celebrated sculpture, Winged Victory of Samothrace, commonly known as the Nike of Samothrace, is a sculpture of the Greek goddess Nike. The statue was a favorite of Frank Lloyd Wright and he used reproductions of it in a number of his buildings including the Martin House in Buffalo. Best Wishes! RW

Ken: Simply amazing. Sol Lewitt's largest scribble drawing title "WALL DRAWING #1268: SCRIBBLES: STAIRCASE (AKAG), CONCEIVED 2006; EXECUTED 2010" encompasses the entire staircase connecting the 1905 and 1962 buildings. It is created entirely by scribble lines. R

David: These ruins from at Riverworks will become the coolest summer patio in 2016. R

Charlie: Gothic City has everything including the bath tub...perfect for your next project. RW

Lawrence: The Pierce Arrow Museum was a great find...loved the playboy car but this hood ornament and hundreds of others made me envious. R

Knox: Now this is a drink! These Labatt Blue Cans are abandoned grain elevator silos 10 storeys tall and are part of Riverworks sports oriented entertainment complex. RW

Tom: Robert Motherwell's Elegy to the Spanish Republic XXXIV is one of many American masterpieces in the Albright Knox Art Gallery's collection. You should get to Buffalo next time you are in Toronto. R

Amy: You would love the acoustics inside the cement silo grain elevators. George: they are a fun place to photograph...wish you both were here. RW

Linda/Charlie: You'd love this porch at Inn Buffalo. You'd love to stay at the Inn, the place oozes history and breakfast is DELICIOUS...RnB