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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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Newgrange & Knowth

Ireland 2007–Newgrange & Knowth

Here’s another excerpt from my trip to Ireland in Sept./Oct. of 2007

We left Dublin on the 28th of Sept. However, trying to navigate out of a city that’s centuries old with winding streets and missing signs was quite a challenge. The 15-minute drive from the car rental place to our guesthouse took an hour and a half.

The guesthouse gave us directions north on the M1 when in fact the map showed that we really wanted M2 to get to Newgrange. Part of the problem is that here you have a map that fills your lap of all Ireland, the same as a map of British Columbia.  A map even of BC would mean hours of driving so our sense of size and distance were skewed.

On top of that, let’s say that Dublin tourism has good maps. They list some of the more known sites. They list major roads and smaller subroutes or connector roads. However, the sites are sometimes before a town when they’re shown as being in the town, or north of a place when shown to be west of a place. Some of those connector roads don’t connect to anything but a playground while there are new routes not listed anywhere on the map. We had three maps and none were accurate.

We took N1 with my sister driving and I kept trying to navigate us back to M2. What a mistake. We did end up in a subdevelopment, a schoolyard, on the M1 and back to still being on the M1 (which can disappear and become the M1 and then R125 or something and then back to being the M1). All this plus navigating the many roundabouts any time there is a road leading in a different direction. We were told to turn at a cemetery by a local at one point and either she’d never been up that road in years or they moved the cemetery, bodies and all.

So, eventually with half the day gone after starting at 11 am to get the car, we made it to the Huntsman Inn somewhere around 4 pm. We stopped in because it looked cute except for the scary horse thing outside. Thatched roof and a few hundred years old, it seems it was competing as the oldest pub/tavern/restaurant with other places. We saw several of these signs and had, while in Dublin, bought a drink at the Stags Head and the Brazen Head pubs, both the oldest for something. Though there were nice staff, I had truly awful onion rings with soft doughy outer layer and soft, too fleshy wings. Blech.

Revitalized and coming to realize that though it’s a short distance through Ireland, it’s not a fast ride, we continued on. We even found Newgrange all by ourselves…but about a half hour too late to get into that day. So we drove along the road to Slain (Slane) and asked there about B&Bs. We stayed at the lovely little Roughgrange home of Irene and her husband, mere minutes from Newgrange, itself a 17th century grange (form of ranch house). We trotted off to Donore for dinner in a pub and had fairly acceptable food with a few massive potatoes.

The next morning we decided to stay a second night as we had plenty in that area to see and drove off to Newgrange. Only done by tour (not enough time as far as I was concerned) we went first to Knowth (nowth for pronunciation). This was the first of many experiences with the stones of Ireland. Knowth and Newgrange are megalithic (or neolithic depending on the info) passage tombs that date back 5-6000 years. These were Stone to Bronze Age cultures. Knowth’s chamber was bigger and there were several mounds of varying sizes.

There have been upgrades to the mounds as over the centuries they were farmed or even had small villages starting up on the top of the mounds. Excavation was needed to bring back the kerbstones which are made of a stone called greywacke (greywacky). I believe only one was missing. In most of the passage tombs there is an alignment to one of the solstices or an equinox. As well, cremated human remains were found and in some the bodies of several people. Archaeologists know these were used for ceremonial or ritual purposes in the earliest days. Knowth and Newgrange are the oldest manmade structures in the world.

The sense of age and history is immense. I could almost see the people moving amongst these revered mounds of long ago, imagine the importance of sun and rain and the turning wheel of the seasons. This was the beginning of a growing sense of stone in Ireland, as if I was being etched, like the whorls and swirls that were set in these kerbstones of long ago to endure weather and touch, and the changing of culture and times.

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