Saturday, August 6, 2016

Having a ball at West Edmonton Mall

We're heading home today, but as I understand it, there is one (1) tourist attraction worth seeing in Edmonton. Apologies to any Edmontonians who read this if I missed something else - please let me know through the comments.  There's a good chance I will be back in Edmonton someday.  If not to do the Canadian Death Race again, at least to check out the amusement park built into the West Edmonton Mall. Fun, but absurd!

Having satisfied this curiosity since childhood to see the mall that has a roller coaster in it, we returned to the car and headed to the airport. Heading home.

Friday, August 5, 2016


Perhaps you've heard this joke:

What's the most exciting tourist thing to do in Calgary?  Leave Calgary.

I wasn't expecting much out of Calgary.  I was expecting to head back to Canmore today. However, Mindy had found a food tour that caught her attention, and Paul and Stella spoke well of the seemingly endless river path and Fish Creek Provincial Park. We may be in Calgary for the last time in our lives today, so let's see what there is to see. I was suitably impressed.

The food tour started at the acclaimed restaurant Rouge, where we sat outside under the shelter of an awning, overlooking the vegetable gardens. Our lunch showcased produce from the gardens, as the restaurant aims to have every plate include something from the Rouge gardens.

Prior to eating, the guide had us each introduce ourselves as we sat around the table. When asked why I was in Alberta, I mentioned a race in northern Alberta. One of our fellow tour attendees interrupted: "The Death Race?" Yes, I replied. "You won, didn't you?"  Followed by "You two got engaged?" as he gestured to Mindy and me. Indeed! With a surprised and flattered smile, I asked how he knew. "CBC Radio." I guess they do have a bit of a following....

The presence of local Calgarians in the food tour reinforced a plan I had hatched the day before to take Mindy on a Toronto food tour for her upcoming birthday. (I can write this in my blog because later that day she told me that's what she wants for her birthday. So much for the surprise!) It really seems like a great way to explore your city.

From Rouge we traveled to various food-related shops and restaurants.  Highlights included the Silk Road, a spice merchant where I learned the three types of cinnamon (the flowery Sri Lankan true cinnamon, Indonesian cassia, and the potent Vietnamese "Saigon" Cinnamon - technically another type of cassia). We also witnessed the mixing of a Silk Road specialty - Turkish Baharat - and took home a sampling. Goes really well on tofu with quinoa!

The Tea Trader - "selling tea since 93" - gave us a new appreciation for traditional fine teas, without any steamed milk or flavoured syrup! As a tea aficionado, myself, this encouraged me back into the tea habit.

Spolumbo's deli was underwhelming for me, being neither a fan of sausage nor the CFL. I do give them credit for staying true to old world ways with all natural sausages and no filler.

Sugo, on the other hand - for handmade burrata and fior di latte cheeses - was incredible! We were watching a true craftsman as the 60-year old staff member made cheese the way his mother taught him back in Italy. As the restaurant is only open for dinner, we got a special treat at lunch, with the restaurant all to ourselves.

In a recurring theme among Calgary's food scene, the owners of Sugo also grow as many fruits (tomatoes), vegetables and herbs for the restaurant as they can.  Apparently, it takes an hour to water one of their gardens each day!

This massive plant beside Mindy is basil. That must make an incredible Caprese salad!

Not the tastiest stop, but certainly an interesting one, Knifewear turns samurai sword-making techniques to a new purpose - kitchen knives. The knives are perfectly balanced, and cut through a tomato or potato like a hot...well, knife...through butter!

 The last official stop, I suppose, was Bricks Wine Company.

A true foodie's liquor store, Bricks includes pairing notes and recommendations throughout the store.  On this hot day, we were treated to an exotic cocktail. I enjoyed it, but might have preferred if they had taken their own tips on food pairing:

I did start the food tour by stating that my favourite food was wine and cheese!

Finally, the last stop on our tour was the Dean House, a restaurant that is anticipated to open in September. As the kitchen and dining room are still under renovations, the Chef treated us to cookies in the gardens around the restaurant. (If Calgary weren't so far away, Mindy and I might have found those gardens worth exploring for future use.) Perched on the shore of the Bow River, the restaurant is poised to be one of the best in Calgary, focusing on contemporary Canadian cuisine. (Think Canoe in Toronto.)  Perhaps if we find ourselves back in Calgary someday we can check out their main courses.

We wandered back along the Bow River to the downtown to retrieve our car and depart Calgary. Edmonton is calling for tonight. Along the way ,we drove through the town that didn't quite measure up to Innisfil in Ontario...

...and, of course, my favourite city in Alberta.

The doorman at the Edmonton River Cree hotel (which isn't actually in Edmonton but is in Enoch, the First Nations Reserve beside Edmonton) lived in Oshawa when he was younger.  Small world. The room wasn't quite as impressive as our last two nights, but the view as the sun set on the day was perfect.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Ancient History

Dinosaurs! Real! Live! Dinosaurs!

Ok, slight overstatement. After all, the last dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago (aside from maybe an island near Hawaii). Today we saw the next best thing to the real animals: their fossilized remains. Today we went to Drumheller and the Alberta Badlands.

Unlike the environs of Banff, Jasper, and Canmore, 90 minutes of driving east from Calgary doesn't afford stunning views of aggressive geological upheaval. As the drive was rather plain, I was hopeful that the hoodoos - the first stop on our trek today - would be well worth it. They did not disappoint!

The hoodoos sit at the bottom of what was once a great river, millions of years ago. Over millennia, the river deposited silt in the river-bed, resulting in a soft rock foundation.  As the river receded, this soft rock was exposed to erosion by rain and wind.  In some places, however, a "cap" of hard stone protects the soft rock underneath it from being washed away by the rain. Little by little, a tower of soft rock with a hard stone lid is formed as the rain erodes the unprotected earth around it.

 As we climbed the bank of the old river bed out of the coulee, we passed millions of years of earth's history, painted in layers of exposed earth. There was even a dark layer of coal, showcasing a bit of recent history of this place - when  it was a coal-mining town.

(Just for you, Garry.  I know you love those "arms up" photos!)

It was an aggressive climb in dry conditions. Had it been wet, the path would have been a clay slide, impossible to mount. Once we reached the top, we found two things:

1. Incredible views of the landscape in all directions, with more coulees showcasing the brilliant colours in each layer of earth, and

2. Mosquitoes! Tons of hungry mosquitoes! We took a quick photo and scampered back down into the safety of the old river.

Having satisfied ourselves with the hoodoos, we ventured into Drumheller, the city.  Or "the town". There's one major tourist attraction in Drumheller, which is the Royal Tyrrell Museum. On our way there, we witnessed Drumheller's efforts to showcase its dinosaur history.

I suppose there are two major tourist attractions in Drumheller if you include the World's Largest Dinosaur. As it's made of fiberglass rather than fossilized bone, it was worth a little less attention.

I'm not sure if or when I will ever be back in Drumheller, but if it happens, I want to spend more time at the museum.  Devoted to paleontology and largely focused on the habitats that were once in the Alberta Badlands, the museum is jaw-dropping even if you don't carry an innate interest in fossils. (Just ask Mindy!)

The largest known animal ever to inhabit our planet. This whale-like creature's head was three metres long!

Not the biggest, but certainly the most terrifying! This Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil is the actual thing - not a cast! Black Beauty, so named for it's distinctive colour (a result of chemical processes on the fossil over millions of years in the ground), is one of the most complete T-Rex fossils ever found. The fossilized head is actually the one at the base - it is too heavy to mount in the position it was found. 

I could have stared at Black Beauty for hours, but there was so much else interesting to see!

Three totally different animals from different eras, yet the same bones comprise the forelimb: humerus, tibia, fibula, wrist bones, etc.. Evolution found a way that works for land animals on earth and ran with it.

With far too much undiscovered, it was time to leave the Royal Tyrrell and head back to Calgary. The sleepy drive back through farmland and fields was suddenly interrupted as Calgary's buildings leap out of the landscape at the side of a river. 

We are staying in a downtown hotel tonight - the Calgary Marriott - where we are once again being treated to a stunning room.  With a view of the pedestrian street in the downtown, below, It made us want to host an event from our suite!

Instead of hosting any event, Paul and Stella picked me up to join them for a drink at a park near their place. The park showcased perhaps the best view of downtown Calgary.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Bear-ly Illegal

Early mornings are tough! We're on vacation, yet we still had to be up at 6:20 this morning for our first radio interview.  That's right!  Apparently we have an adoring public in Alberta.  CBC Radio Edmonton and CBC Radio Calgary both wanted live interviews on their morning shows today.  The Edmonton slot was at 6:40am, so we had to get up a little earlier to avoid too much "groggy morning" on the radio. The interview was brief, but very fun:

The CBC Calgary time-slot wasn't until 8:40 am - much more conducive to a vacation schedule - but we were up and it wasn't teeming rain, so we decided to make another attempt at wildlife viewing along Spray Lakes Road. Ideally,we would have seen a grizzly, a wolf, and a herd of elk.  Instead, we saw more of our long-horn sheep friends, and a deer. We also saw mist rising off the mountains as the sun gained its position in the sky. Definitely worth getting out of bed!

We were back at the hotel in time for our Calgary interview. This celebrity schedule is tough!

Prior to joining Paul and Stella for a hike, we stopped at Communitea Cafe in Canmore for breakfast and some really excellent coffee. (I'm not exactly a coffee aficionado, but I am developing a taste for it. This was my first coffee from a French Press.)

The four of us had plans to do one of the most popular hikes in Canmore today - Grassi Lakes. The highlights of the hike, apparently, are two emerald coloured lakes that lend the hike it's name.  Wildlife sightings are also common. We never did learn whether the lakes are as stunning as the marketing suggests, due to some of those wildlife sightings prior to our arrival.

We debated doing the hike anyway - even considered that Paul and Stella could respond in Dutch to any Parks staff who questioned us being there - but ultimately the fear of a major fine and the innate sensibility of avoiding areas that are closed due to bear activity turned us away. We continued down the road until we found another promising trail. Though we did not find a lake, we did find a pretty mountain stream.

Paul and Stella set out for Calgary after the hike, but Mindy and I wanted the chance to explore the town of Canmore.

A thriving local business, the Rocky Mountain Soap Company seems to have a monopoly on hotels and restaurants in Canmore. Having tried it multiple times already where we were staying and eating, we were intrigued to visit the actual store.  Finding it, we learned about their excellent business philosophy:

We rounded out our afternoon with Rave Coffee and eclectic pizza at Rocky Mountain Flatbread. Their dessert pizza is worth trying!

Eventually, the adventures in Canmore had to end and we were on our way to Calgary. When we arrived at our hotel, Mindy "casually" mentioned that we were recently engaged; we got upgraded to a suite. Awesome!