Tag Archives: Edmonton

Thoughts on Alberta

I haven’t lived in Alberta for a long time so that now when I go back I notice the difference. I am just a tourist in the place of my birth. Calgary is an immensely spread out city. In the middle of the prairies there is room to grow like a slowly encroaching disease. Alberta itself is known as Big Sky Country. When you compare it to BC, which is mountainous all the way to the coast (we are part of the Rockies), there is a huge difference.

Edmonton to Calgary (canola fields)

Edmonton to Calgary (canola fields)

Calgary is in the foothills, on the other side of the Rocky Mountains. You come out of Banff, if you’re driving from BC and the sky just opens up. It is rolling hills and flat patches. There is nothing but sky and fields. I can see how someone growing up in the mountains or heavily wooded areas could find that great blue expanse disconcerting. I find it noticeably different in comparison to Vancouver.

Calgary, years ago, built their downtown core fairly compacted with buildings set close together. It made the downtown darker and colder than the outlying areas. The city center is also in a dip or a bowl and the city rises up out of the bowl on all sides. Keeping the downtown in that dip served to concentrate the center but the rest went its own way. There are major thoroughfares that crisscross the city north to south and east to west. They have such names as Sarcee Trail, Crowchild Trail, Deerfoot Trail, John Laurie Boulevard, Shaganapi Trail, Edmonton Trail, McKnight Boulevard, etc. Many, as you can see are reminiscent of the First Nations bands that originally occupied that area.

These roads are two to three lanes (there are others I haven’t named) and though they have lights at intersections, those lights are spaced very widely apart. Many of these freeway style roads are bordered by giant boulevards. It would be better to call them small inclines rather than boulevards because they often slope up (or down) and are 20 to 30 feet wide. Many of these roads are also bordered by large walls, used to keep sound out of the residential areas.

I grew up in the northwest (Calgary works on a quadrant system of street names and numbers split into NW, SW, SE, and NE) and at one time it was bordered by Spy Hill, or Nose Hill. I believe there are still houses on the other side of the area but it is protected land. Once I believe it was ranchland and may still have be partially privately owned but it is the only true hilly region (small part of the foothills) in Calgary. We used to go up there and do bow and arrow shooting at targets or just explore.

Just these major “trails” alone in Calgary take up a lot of space. Without them it would take far longer to go from one side of the city to the other. The last time I was there it took two hours one day to go from NW to SE, and I’m not sure we even hit the farthest reaches of the city. I cannot fathom how I managed to live on one side of the city and used to take the bus to work on the other side, before they had rapid transit.

One place to go for hikes is Bragg Creek. I went with my friend for a hike. Some uphill and some flat Picture 141spaces and a very nice view from other parts. Bragg Creek has a meandering creek that has never been particularly high from what I remember. Farther away is Elbow Falls. We didn’t go that route but did a three-hour hike (or a bit less) which gave us good cardio but was not hard. Runners are all you need but watch out for the bugs. Something bit my arm while we were walking though it neither itched nor swelled up.

Back in Calgary, one thing I did notice was the very high price of food, comparable to what I’ve seen in Seattle. Onions here are between .69 and .79/lb. In Calgary, $1.49/lb. Other fruits and vegetables were similarly expensive. Ouch.

The weather was hot, pulling in a short and fierce windstorm that killed two people and injured about 100 others and yet we missed it going from building to house. It lasted no more than a half hour. It poured one night, growing toward thunderstorm, but that never happened. Thunderstorms are common in Alberta and tornadoes are not uncommon in the southern parts of the province.

After so many years, I saw the differences in weather and land and city structure. I still prefer my home in Vancouver where usually the summers aren’t as hot, nor the winters as cold.

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Horror Hotel: Travelodge Review

If you travel to it, it will lodge in you like a cancerous tumor.

My sister and I drove up to Edmonton, Alberta for my brother’s surprise birthday. My sister-in-law had paid for a room at the Travelodge on 45 Ave.  As we drove in we noticed the nearly empty parking lot and mounds of dirt. Okay they were renovating or changing the lot. We go in and it’s relatively small as “hotels” go though I would call it more a motel. A little pool right off the front desk.

We went to register and they found it right away. Good so far except then the guy asks how we are going to pay for the room. My sister said, It’s already paid for. She came in personally to pay for it. (We didn’t have a confirmation number but it was supposed to be more than confirmed.) The guy says there’s nothing here. He looks in the written book and it just has my name, no other information. We insist it’s been paid for and he says, there is nothing we can do.

As we’re standing there two guys come in from down the hall. One is wiry, bald, very long mustachios and a few tattoos. He’s already looking florid. He said something about paying for, and booking, the hotel online and how his friend (who had booked it)  was charged a month before they even got it. But the room they were given had air conditioning that wasn’t working (it’s 35 degrees Celsius in Edmonton right now). They’d shown him another room that was dingy and just as bad. In a livid rage he said he wanted his money back as the guy said, we can’t do that. There is nothing we can do.

We watch all this, now getting a true sense of Travelodge. As this guy rants the staff member goes, I’m senior management, there’s nothing we can do. It’s policy (like a broken record) which just makes this biker guy madder. He and and his friend say we’re going to post this on the internet. I’m not sure what eventually happened there as we were trying to deal with our problem. We can’t call my sister-in-law directly as this is supposed to be a surprise birthday for my brother. So I call my other brother but he’s enroute and can’t pass the message on.

So we reiterate that my sister-in-law came in Wednesday or Thursday in person and paid for the room. There is also a girl behind the desk and she says oh she would have booked the room by phone. But we say, maybe but she came in to pay. If she booked it by phone do you have a credit card number then? Can you check to see if she made a payment in her name? Then we get, we only use a credit card on the phone to hold a room. Well do you ever charge to it? No, we only hold a room. I ask, what happens if I don’t show up for my room then? Do you charge it? No, we never do that. Then why do you take the credit card as confirmation? You don’t understand, we only use it to hold the room. But if you actually never use it to charge for a room I could make up a number, couldn’t I?

Anyways, we go around like that for a bit with the supposedly “senior management” guy looking back through they payments made and saying there is nothing. There is nothing we can do. So my sister and I cart our luggage back to the car. It’s too early for the party so we just opening the car and trying to figure out what we can do when some other guy runs out and says oh they want to see you at the front desk. We had already been there for a half hour trying to sort this out. As we walk back in the girl comes out and says there has been a big misunderstanding that in fact yes, my sister-in-law had paid for the room and in fact the supposedly senior management guy had not read the deposit column. So, we do have a room but they had made no notation anywhere that it had been paid for or anything. I have to say the girl was apologetic. The other guy was arrogant and unhelpful and made the situation worse.

We walked down the dimly lit corridor with a well worn brown carpet. They were putting us on the first floor of a three floor hotel. We went into the hotel room, noticing the sagging beds, but got ready for the evening. There is a mirror in the bathroom and one full length one near the door. The outlet in the bathroom didn’t work for a flat-iron and there was no outlet near the other mirror. Other outlets were not flush to the wall, with plastered holes showing but not painted. The room was dim even with all the lights on (a desk lamp, a floor lamp and two bed lamps). My sister tried another outlet that didn’t work. Oh, and yes, there were ants in the bathroom. So on our way out we said, there are ants, the outlet doesn’t work in the bathroom nor in the room.

They were supposed to have fixed it but when we returned at 2:30 am there were over a dozen ants in the bathroom. Big ants. I flushed about ten down the drain, and we called them up. Instead of saying, sorry and coming to us and helping us move to another room, they made us pack up everything and come to the front desk so that we could then move to another room. Where it turned out the air conditioner barely put out slightly cool air through the night, the outlet in the bathroom didn’t work, another outlet in the wall didn’t work, the beds were uncomfortable and the pillows as lumpy as oatmeal. These rooms weren’t cheap and cost about $140 a night.

If Travelodge offered me a free week at their hotels I wouldn’t take it. The hotel was so rundown looking, the beds so bad (and the sheets were wrinkled and made us suspicious that they hadn’t been changed), the rooms so shabby that I haven’t stayed in something this bad since India. Their overall lack of customer service and sheer arrogance was offputting. And whether those guys who had booked through the internet and had read the info correctly or not, there are better ways to diffuse a situation than what these guys did. Be warned. I would consider this chain of hotels to be any better elsewhere.

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Traveling

I’m in Alberta at the moment, visiting family and getting ready to go to the World Fantasy Convention at the end of the week. My chances to get on the internet are sporadic.

Calgary (and Edmonton) in October are cold. It’s hovering near 0 (celsius) and crisp. However the sky is clear but a weaker washed out blue this time of year. The trees are almost all bare and the ground is yellow and brown and golden. In some fields where the hay was cut long ago the remaining stubs have turned a bleached whitish yellow. They almost look silver and it’s kind of pretty. There is a touch of green left in some grass but it too has mostly yellow with the cold. Quite a contrast from Vancouver.

I will hopefully have time to write more and post but it could be sporadic this week.

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An Appetizer by Any Other Name

A month ago my brother was visiting from Edmonton. He wanted to hear blues music (jazz, if not blues) and I tried to find a restaurant with said music. We found one in Yaletown (and spent a half hour finding parking) and finally went into the restaurant called Capone’s. As you can guess, it’s an Italian theme, with some pasta dishes on the menu. Not particularly memorable food either.

But there on the first page was “Tapas.” My brother raised an eyebrow and said, “We call these appetizers in Edmonton.” And you would think in an Italian restaurant these dishes would be called “antipasti,” not the Spanish “tapas.”

Well, I explained to my brother the new wave of tapas bars or restaurants in Vancouver. If you’re a restaurant you have a tapas menu and on it you list all sorts of sumptuous morsels. You bring them out on simple plates, but elegantly and artistically arranged. Then no one seems to mind that they’re paying $12 for three scallops. Tapas menus tend to range from $10-$14 with $12 being the average.

If you switch out the word tapas and pop in “appetizer” suddenly it’s not as appetizing and people would protest paying the higher price for just an appetizer. Granted we don’t need as much food as our hunter-gather ancestors did but the tapas drapery does seem to pull the wool over people’s eyes. Sure some restaurants do have appetizers reaching that range but the prices are not comparable always to the style of restaurant. Stella’s in East Van is a Belgium beer and tapas bar. A little cultural mixing there. Their dishes are pretty tasty.

Last night I was at Habit on Main St. They have a small menu with items ranging from $9-$18. There is no true differentiation between an appetizer and the main meal and the small menu says right at the top, Best to be shared. Some of these items that we had–the beet salad and the crispy tofu with eggplant–could have been considered tapas, but they were much larger portions and though two of us shared, these dishes could have been tapassed out to four people easily. If they had been listed as tapas, they would have been half the size for the same price.

So next time you’re sitting down to an artistic repast of bite-size tapas, presume you’re paying for the art and the name, and enjoy. Oh, and chew slowly to get your money’s worth.

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