Edmonton Tourist: Disneyland

If you know me at all, you know one of my favourite places to be at any given moment is sitting in a rocking chair on the veranda at Main Street USA in Disneyland. As I age, I am less about the rides and more about details and atmosphere. Sipping an ice-cold lemonade, listening to ragtime music or better yet, the Dapper Dans and watching the world go by. MainStreet is charming. It evokes feelings from my childhood when everything was easy.

The first time I went to Disneyland I was six. My first memory is of my family walking from the parking lot which is now the Esplanade and Disney’s California Adventure, through the front gates which haven’t changed a bit. The Mickey floral is the same and we walked through the left side of the tunnel sweeping us into a whole other universe.

It was clean, smelled of vanilla, and colourful in pale yellows, reds and blues. I held my dad’s hand and took it all in. I can’t tell you what my first ride was. I have no idea. I remember riding Pirates and being scared on Haunted Mansion, sitting beside my mom on It’s a Small World and I was horrified that my uncle was shrunk and never was the same size again after riding Adventures Thru Inner Space. I remember loving the People Mover and America Sings. My first parade was Main Street Electrical Parade and my first character visit was with Mickey Mouse on Main Street and my first crush was Robin Hood.

My last visit was similar to all the visits before. Only this time I was the mom and the parking lot was over by the Disneyland Hotel, that special cast member spot because my niece is one of those Cast Members who work for the Mouse. I walked along Main Street that hadn’t changed and still looks clean, smells of vanilla and colourful in pale yellows, reds and blues. I sat on the veranda sipping lemonade while my girls rode Star Tours endlessly in the same spot that Adventures through Inner Space used to be. I shared knowledge of secrets, retired attractions and hidden pathways that have now become other things.

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Crowds and costs have become overwhelming but somehow with the right planning, I found myself enjoying it all the same way I had when I was six because, for me, the pleasure is in the details. Here are a few of my favourite details that haven’t changed.

1.       The Red and White Lightbulb. At the end of Main Street at Refreshment corner, there are a series of red and white light bulbs at the entrance of the marque. There were not enough spots to have an even pattern of red/white. Walt Disney suggested the imaginears paint one bulb red and white – split it down the middle. This kind of detail impresses the heck out of me.

2.       When building New Orleans Square, the imaginears were sent to NOLA to do some research. They came back with pages of ideas to recreate the area to make it as authentic as possible right down to the brass plaques in the space above some of the doors, this one is above the wall light. In NOLA, these plaques indicated who had fire insurance and who didn’t as a signal to the fire department. Fingers crossed you had one so the firefighters wouldn’t let the place burn.

3.       The Country Bear Jamboree was a favourite of both my mom and me. We loved Big Al and Rufus. Melvin, Buff and Max would chat before the show from their mounts on the wall. In Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, if you look up as you pass through one of the doors, you can see the trio hanging above the door. That makes me smile almost as much as hearing Rufus snore on Splash Mountain.Image result for max melvin buff

4.       There is a Moon and a Sun in every room of It’s a Small World. This is contrary to the song “there is just one moon and a golden sun” but it is a detail that thrills me.

5.       I stood in line for Peter Pan late one night because I like that ride to be my last. It is always a 45-minute wait and kids get bored pretty easy. Parents were all on the phones while kids were swinging from the rails. I tapped a few kids on the shoulder and pointed to the window above Snow White’s Scary Adventure. The evil queen opens the curtains every few minutes and surveys Fantasyland with a scowl. The kids were amazed and showed their parents. There is always something special to see when you are looking up. The ride is undergoing a major refurb right now so finger’s crossed she will still be lording over Fantasyland when it is all complete.

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I know a billion more and it can be pretty annoying going with me as I spew Disney trivia and secrets to unsuspecting companions. But that is all part of the fun for me.

Edmonton Tourist: Wabamun Lake Provincial Park

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It was -1C and my first thought was, “I should go for a walk in the woods with Cap”. My second thought was, “Stop looking at Facebook memories.” In 2017 the overnight low was -42C with a windchill of -50C. The house was warm-ish… but the walls and floors were cold. Closing curtains add that extra insulation barrier. This memory sealed the deal. I was going to a provincial park with my boy. I checked the weather at Wabamum and at Miquelon, Wabamum won by 2 degrees.

I hadn’t been to Wabamun Lake Provincial Park since my son was 5 maybe 6. We came to the beach and he loved the train trestle that crossed the water. As a train enthusiast, this was his favourite beach.

I hung out at this lake from the age of 18 to 26. My ex-husband’s family had a cottage at Seba Beach, the west side of the lake and I was a camp counsellor at YoWochAs near Fallis, the Northside of the lake. The provincial park is located on the east side. I learned to paddle and sail on this lake. I also learned to water ski and tried scuba diving. I prefer paddling in the canoe and exploring the freshwater creeks that feed into this lake. I remember listening to a friend telling me he was going to sail to the provincial park and step the mast so he could camp. I had no idea why he needed to do that until he explained about the train trestle. Since that day, every time I see the trestle, I think fondly of him.

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Cap and I arrived to find everything closed. The campground was barricaded, the beach access was closed. The only place open was Group Camp D, or at least the parking lot to group D was open. I parked there along with three other vehicles.

There was more snow here than I anticipated. If I am going to continue to do these types of explorations, I think I need to invest in a pair of snowshoes. The last time I wore snowshoes they looked like this:

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The snow was deep and I think I could benefit from the stability. My sled dog would appreciate them because then going off-trail wouldn’t be such a big deal for me. Alternatively, perhaps a sled would be better! He pulls me up slippery slopes as it is.

From the parking lot, we discovered an ungroomed trail. People had used it for snowshoeing and skiing. Lots of dog tracks so Cap had a lot of investigating to do.

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The trail took us along the northwest shore of the lake. We found lots of animal trails, moose, hare and coyote. The coyote makes Cap skittish and reluctant to go first. He wasn’t as confident as the other trips we take.

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We had to stop a lot, sniff the air and snow and listen for predators. Waiting patiently for him, I noticed the smell of coal. I had forgotten the area smelled like this. They still strip mine south of the lake and Keephills and Sundance plants are still in operation – as a general FYI, Edmonton still gets its electricity from coal. It isn’t as clean as you think. Do any of you remember the smell of coal and straw burning to thaw the ground for construction crews? That is was it smelled like. It was a familiar smell of my youth.

We kept walking thinking I would find beach access, but no luck.

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I also expected to see ice fishing on the lake.  When I came out here in the late ’80s, the lake was covered in fishing tents. Side note: I went into Wabamun and found all the ice fishing tents off the main pier. They just don’t do it the bay because of limited access to the water.

The sun is still low in the sky for a mid-afternoon day, it casts long shadows and sparkles up the snow.

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We walked about 1.5km before Cap stopped and would not go further. Obviously, there were coyotes ahead. So we turned around and he just about pulled my arm off trying to get to the car.

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This is a park that is slammed with campers and beachgoers during the summer season. But if you are a cross-country skier or snowshoe enthusiast, I recommend the quiet peaceful winter to visit. I didn’t come across any picnic sites, but I know there is some closer to the day-use area. Wabamun is about an hour west of Edmonton on hwy 16. It’s also worth checking out Canada’s largest dragonfly located in town because how often can you see big things like this?

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Get out and explore!

Edmonton Tourist: Ten Years of Travel

As we move into a brand new decade, I am reflecting on this decade. The last ten years of blogging have pushed me into unexpected places. I love my city but I knew there were places I hadn’t really been to. The more I visited the nooks and crannies of Edmonton, the more I knew I wanted to explore other places the same way. Becoming the Edmonton Tourist had me looking for those hidden gems that are free to explore and left me with delight at new knowledge of other places. My parents gave me the gift of travel and I have been all over the world. After being the Edmonton Tourist, I think I would explore those places differently if I had the chance to go back. As we move into 2020, I reflected on some of the best things I have seen in ten years. I eagerly look forward to exploring more because, to me, there is no better thing to be than a tourist.

2010: Vimy Ridge. I went to Europe with my famjam. We landed in Paris and explored France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany during a nine-day period – it may have been ten days, IDK, it was A LOT. We had a plan but the best part of the trip was the unexpected happenstance of stumbling upon Vimy Ridge. It was a complete accident that changed my life. The art, the unexploded shells, the trenches and the grave markers of boys who were not much older than my own shook me to my core. Thanks Vimy.

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2011: Banff National Park. My son and I went on a camping trip to Banff. Just the two of us. We created memories that we still laugh about. I learned he is more like me than I realized and we both love Johnsons Canyon. It was a pivotal moment for us. It is one of the greatest vacations of all time.  Thanks Banff.Johnston's Canyon - all paths deserve to be walked on

2012: Regina. I learned from my trip with my son that one on one time with your child is important. The next year my daughter and I went to visit my godmother in Regina. This was an epic trip filled with big things like the world’s largest coffee pot and Al Capone’s secret caves of Moose Jaw. But we also went to Dog River. A fictional town on the prairie where they filmed Corner Gas. It was such fun I cannot begin to describe it. Small town Saskatchewan was an unexpected great trip. Thanks Regina.IMG_1648

2013: Calgary. If you know anything about Alberta, you understand the love/hate relationship between Calgary and Edmonton. A bucket list item was to run a race with my dad. The fat girl whose grade seven gym teacher called her lard ass. Whose ex-boyfriend said fat made him lose his chubby. Proving to myself that I could run and run with my dad was a big deal to me. It was his birthday and we took my son to Calgary for the Calgary Marathon weekend. We ran the 10km. The Hubs and my daughter surprised me at the finish line. It was an epic day. I learned that Calgary puts on one of the best races I had ever attended….better than a Disney Race… The crowds were amazing and the sites were beautiful. Exploring a different city on foot was such a gift. Thanks, Calgary.

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Me and Dadeo at the finish

2014: Hawaii. For my son’s graduation, he got to pick a trip. He chose Hawaii. We went to Aulani, Disney’s resort on the west side of Oahu. We had been before when my son was 7 months old. He learned to crawl in Hawaii. I didn’t want to leave the resort. I am not such a big hot beach fan, I love the cold beaches of Tofino, but this place was magical. I loved it. I learned that I am impervious to sunscreen and can listen to the ocean for the rest of my life. The four of us explored every inch of the resort and spent time on top of volcanoes, looking at war memorials, learning about seafood and pineapple allergies but most of all just loved exploring with each other. Thanks Hawaii.

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2015: Big Sur. I was crew for my friend who ran from San Fransico to Anaheim (500 miles) to raise money and awareness for Spinal Muscular Atrophy. It was the loneliest trip of my life, but as with all times of loneliness, the greatest learnings come from that. It was my own pilgrimage of sorts. It was the greatest growth for me. It was the beginning of the end. I shed 500lbs of dead weight and began the long road to creating boundaries. I sat on a rock at Devil’s Slide and watched a pod of humpback whales swim by. It was a spiritual experience and the greatest learning of my life. This was the place where regrets were born, accepted and learned from. I returned to this spot on the way back home with my hubs. I cried for days. I cried all the way home to Canada. The great purge of emotion happened on this trip and I learned who I could trust, and who was loyal. I am grateful to my Hubs for taking such good care of me when I couldn’t care for myself. This place feels sacred. I long to go back. Thanks Big Sur.11921645_1125074180854471_1929081778109239340_n

2016: Vancouver. The year my daughter graduated, her chosen trip was to Vancouver. It is no secret that Vancouver is my favourite city on the planet. She was toying with the idea of going to school here. We did a different kind of trip than we normally do. We visited film sets. Heck, we even crashed a set at the Delta dog park during the filming of the Flash. We drove right on set with the confidence of the film crew. It was only later they asked us who were. We were lost and how the heck do we get out of here? Good times. I learned things about Vancouver I never knew before. What a great place to explore. Thanks Vancouver.

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2017: Tofino. The Hubs and I came here on our honeymoon way back in the early 90’s. In 2017 the Hubs just retired and I was about to start my new career. It had been a tough summer and I was ready for change. He surprised me with a trip to the Wickaninnish Inn on Chesterman Beach in Tofino. I walked straight into the ocean and stood there for an hour or two and just let the waves wash over me and heal me. I cried and let out all kinds of pain, trauma and RELIEF. I was reborn on that beach. It’s corny but true. A baptism of sorts. This remains the greatest vacation of all time. ALL-TIME! It only would have been better by having my kids there. I want them both to get married there and I want to move there. I never want to leave Tofino or Ucluelet again. When I win the lottery Friday night, Saturday morning I am packing and moving there. At least I will have a seasonal home there and a place here in Edmonton because I love Edmonton too. The ocean, the rainforest, the raven and the wolves are something special to me. I love this place. Thanks Tofino.

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2018: Vancouver Island. I loved 2017 so much, I needed to go back. This time I was healthier and could do more. 2017 was what my daughter refers to as the time I died. I didn’t but I was close to it. My kidneys stopped working and let me just say, I don’t recommend organ failure. It was a long road back, by the time I made it back to the west coast, I was ready to explore every nook and cranny. We hiked rainforest trails, explored the lighthouse, ate amazing things, went to a carving shed to meet an artist, met a gal who moved from Edmonton in the ’70s and never went back. This time we went in a boat to explore the ocean as well. We saw eagles, sea lions, harbour seals and orcas. ORCAS! Damn, I love you Tofino.

2019: Jasper. Secret Season is the best. My daughter’s 21 birthday was spent at Disneyland. It took up most of my money. The hubs and I wanted a vacation so we booked off-season at the Jasper Park Lodge and saw things I hadn’t seen before. Winter in Jasper before ski season is THE BEST EVER! We saw wildlife and zero people, except for that couple from New York City who was shocked I was wearing a sweater and no parka. Winter in Alberta is different than in New York. What I think is warm is apparently FREEZING in NYC. Big babies… Seriously though, make the trip for the wildlife and the scenery and the quiet because it is worth every second. Thanks Jasper.

img_4557 2020: The Unknown. I think I will go to Kamloops for a spiritual conference at the Akashic Ranch in June. But I might go to Sedona and explore vortexes or Santa Fe for the Balloon Festival. I might wander down to Waterton National Park or take my kids back to Aulani, maybe we will go to Disneyland and visit Galaxy’s Edge or just stay at home. I don’t know. But I do know I will be exploring more provincial parks, hanging out in my river valley and poking around new restaurants and maybe take in a festival or two. 2010-2019 showed me a lot of amazing things. I am positive the next 10 years will show me more.

Get out and explore, you won’t regret it.

Edmonton Tourist: Jasper Park Lodge

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Last week I told you about my little getaway during secret season at Jasper National Park. We decided to make it a resort getaway, so we booked two nights at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. This is the place where the Duke and Duchess of Sussex stayed for their honeymoon. The Jasper Park Lodge opened as a tent city in 1915 then eventually was taken over by Canadian Pacific Railway and became one of the great railway hotels of Canada. If you have stayed at any of the other Fairmonts in Canada, you know what I mean. It is high end and exquisite. I had been here before for a quilt workshop and my hubs and I came for a weekend getaway 25 years ago, but I had not been here since.

I booked through the AMA website and found a deal, and I mean DEAL for $200 a night. Worth noting – this is not a sponsored post. That is a typical night stay in town in a regular hotel. Offseason midweek makes a big difference plus being an AMA member sure helps. It’s worth it to keep your eye on deals.

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We checked in late on a Wednesday afternoon. Earlier that morning the hotel texted to welcome me and asked why I was coming. I let them know it was a nice getaway for us since we hadn’t been in 25 years. They asked if there was anything they could do for me, and I said no. I did consider bringing Cap, with a pet fee of $50 per night, I thought against it. If my kids were with us then I would have brought my pal. When we checked in we were immediately upgraded to a cottage on the lake. Here was the view from the living room – that’s right I said living room.

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Lac Beauvert was frozen without snow so in a few weeks there will be some good skating going on! The room was large with a king bed and the sofa was a pull-out. Down the hall were a coffee bar and fridge. There was a large double-wide closet with robes, slippers, and an umbrella.

The first thing we did was take a walk along the lake. To go around the lake takes about 45 minutes, we made it about halfway before it became too dark to walk in the woods in wolf country. The smell of pine in the air is an instant stress reliever for me. Honestly, I don’t know what I prefer more, the mountains or the ocean. The high-end cottages, where Royalty stays, were all decked out with Christmas lights. They were so pretty through the trees.

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The big cottage sleeps ten (I think) and has a full kitchen, fireplace, study, dining room and three bathrooms. Everyone gets a bedroom. I want to book this one year for my family at Christmas. The hotel will put up a tree and we can either have Christmas dinner catered in the cottage or we can cook it. One day… its a bucket list item for sure. This is the Royal one. Very secluded and quiet on the point.

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You walk down from the cottage and can sit on the cute bench, I guessed the royals sat here at least once.

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We walked back to our cottage and I thought about how lovely this was. Very few people were around.

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We made a cup of tea and I pulled out my knitting. It was quiet and peaceful, a perfect ending to the day. Eventually, we made our way to the main lodge for a bite to eat. Since we ate a big lunch at Jasper Brewing Company, it was late before we decided on cocktails and nibblies. We walked the 5 minutes to the lodge and went up to the Emerald Lounge. I looked at the menu and thought hard about creating my own Old Fashion. Look at the choices!

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In the end, after all the big talk of wanting a cocktail, I had a glass of shiraz and the hubs had a Jasper Ale. We ordered the charcuterie board, it had interesting things on there like elk sausage and other game meats, cheeses fruit and nuts. We decided to share dessert and landed on the rhubarb sorbet and lemon mascarpone mousse. It was so good, we ordered another the next night.

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We poked around the lodge before heading back to our room. Christmas in November happened the week before so the decorations were up. After hearing all about it, I put that on my bucket list for another year. Perhaps I can convince my mom to postpone her trip to Europe next year and I will take her for a treat.

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The gingerbread house filled the lobby with the aroma of cinnamon and ginger. I am considering making one for my office and keeping it up all year round.

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I only need 440 lbs of flour. Shouldn’t be too much of a problem, I can make it in batches.

Stanley the house labrador dog was off duty when we stopped by. I didn’t get to see him at all over the stay, he was either walking or resting.

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The walk back to the cottage was surprisingly bright. The full moon lit up the mountain range.

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This was the same shot the next morning.

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We woke up early, and by early I mean we stumbled in for breakfast about 9:00 am. and ate at Orso Trattoria. The only problem with the secret season is the limited availability for dining options. However, the breakfast was good with a view that was only rivalled by my breakfast view at Wickaninnish in Tofino.

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You are looking at Edith Cavell. That tiny dot on top of the mountain is the Jasper Sky Tram. You can go up there and see for days (but only in the summer season).

After our day of site seeing, we came back to this:

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I guess they thought 25 years meant anniversary? It was so thoughtful and delightful! The raspberry macaron was the best one. They were super fresh. The champagne went in my bag for New Years!

We headed back to the Emerald lounge for snackies, we didn’t have the strength to drive into Jasper  – buy that I mean, I didn’t feel like calling for the car because there wasn’t anywhere to self-park, they do it for you. I loved the ritual of walking to the lodge for meals. Especially in the full moonlight.

The next morning we repeated the same breakfast plan. Each meal we took the time to get to know the servers. Most of the staff come from Austalia or Ontario. The Alberta kids think the Rockies are old hat, so they travel farther west to surf and work at the Wick. The staff live on the property and are amazed at their view every morning. I regret not coming to Jasper after college. I thought about it but never did. In my next life, I am totally doing that!

We took a walk around the property before we headed back to pack.

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The pool is open all year round. It’s heated obviously and you swim through a tunnel from the indoor pool. It was 32F that morning with one brave dude swimming and taking in the view.  Its fine until your hair gets wet. We continued walking towards the boathouse.img_4513

If you are looking for peace, I recommend a few days here. Jasper National Park is a world-class destination, rich in history and wildlife. If you have been before, you know what I mean. If you have never been, come. If you see me poking around, come say hi.

 

Edmonton Tourist: Pembina River Provincial Park

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When I woke up this morning (Saturday, October 12) it was sunny and lovely out. It isn’t going to be this way for long because the nights are getting colder. I anticipate snow sooner than later. With this in mind, I figured The Captian and I needed to head west to see what we could see. I googled Provincial Parks thinking I would go to Wabamum but Pembina River popped up.

First of all, I had no idea Pembina was a provincial park. Secondly, I hadn’t been there since 1988 when I would drop off a truck and trailer for the young paddlers upstream learning how to negotiate river eddies and snags while at summer camp. The truck was their ticket back to YoWoChaS, a YWCA camp located at Fallis on the shores of Wabamum Lake, where they would get a meal of fried chicken and bannock as their reward.

All I could think about was the river and how much fun it was at camp. I loved those people and that was a very special time for me. I learned a lifetime of things that stuck with me. Obviously, I needed to share that with Cap. I packed water and checked Waze. I live 109 km away. Totally doable. Had I planned my day better, I could have done two provincial parks, but I will get to Wabamum another day.

The Yellowhead Highway 16, is rough. Full of ruts and bumps until Spruce Grove. After that it was fine. It was the kind of day I thought I would like to keep going until Jasper but I needed to be home so Chatterbox could use my car for her volunteer gig.

I remembered the turnoff to Entwistle and easily found my way down into the river valley. I thought I remembered an old single-lane bridge that spanned the river so you could cross over to Evansburg, but I could be wrong. Maybe it was replaced? At any rate, I remembered the valley and the steep high banks of the river. I found the sign and pulled into the Day-Use area.

There were signs pointing the way to the beach.

Beach?

People who live in Ontario or near the ocean would laugh. The ‘beach’ is the shore with a bit of sand and rock. It’s lovely, but not what one would think of when you say ‘beach’.

Cap and I parked in the vast parking lot, I noticed there is an overflow lot. This is a swimming river because it is slow-moving and shallow. This river is popular with people who bring tubes or rafts and put in upstream and drift along. The perspective for Alberta from any river is amazing. If you get the chance to explore river valleys via the water, do it.

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Near where we parked is a playground and picnic shelter. There were signs that gave direction to the beach but you could see it from the parking lot, so it was obvious. There were signs saying no dogs on the beach…but… it isn’t summer and Cap can’t read.

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There is a parking lot by Entwistle 3km away and you can hike in if you look at the trails from P to P. It is hilly but I think it would be a great hike in the early summer or early fall. Cap and I parked and took the stairs to the picnic area near the beach.

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The hill we drove down was quite high, plus there are stairs and steep hills to get closer to the water. The picnic spots are fantastic, this should be a place I bring my famjam for a picnic.

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We kept walking upstream through the trees to get the to river. I didn’t feel steady enough to to take the short cut to the river.

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This was an easy gentle slope to the river. The first thing I noticed was the lack of leaves on the trees. The ground was abundant with crunchy leaves. The orange trees are tamaracks, they turn colour in the fall and drop their needles before winter. There are quite a few conifers still holding onto their needles plus the green lodgepole pines are straight and narrow still showing off their green needles that last all year long.

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We made it to the river bank and I remembered how easy it was to pull the canoe out from here. I think this must be where the rafters pull out too. The sign is easy to miss though, so first-timers pay attention once you pass under the bridge.  The big RIVER EXIT sign isn’t really big enough and is quite far from the water.

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Cap and I went further upstream to the park boundary.

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It is essentially at the bridge.

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Bridges that are accessible by water in Alberta have some sort of stamp or art on the structure below. Most are wild roses or the Alberta crest, but this one had a paddler dude. I love these signs along the waterways. I loved being on the river. I think I was a voyageur in a past life. The Pembina meets up with the Athabasca River which will take you to Lake Athabasca but there were forts along the way, so it was obviously used by voyageurs.

We turned around and headed downstream to the bend where the campground is located. This campground is gorgeous. I highly recommend staying here if for nothing else but the view.

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We climbed up the bank instead of heading back to the gently sloping path, Cap pulled me out because he is the best dog ever. Once back in the car, we made our way up the hill to the park entrance and stopped to look at the four monoliths.

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Part of the Canadian Northern Railway bridge. Ugly but historic.

I investigated the campground a bit more and learned camp spots are $33 a night and most have hook-ups. They aren’t all treed but they do have great views of the river valley.

Pembina River Provincial Park is about an hour west of Edmonton on Highway 16. Come in the summer for a float and I am sure a lot of people will join you, or come in the fall and be the only one walking on the shores. The choice is yours.

Just get out and explore your neighbourhood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edmonton Tourist: October Staycations

 

I have been caught up in a whirlwind of activity over the last few days. Since I started practicing mindfulness during fun activities, I have laughed 100% more than I did before. It isn’t always appropriate to laugh until your sides hurt, but that happened when I went to a team-building event and announced I was ready to have my butt kicked during ping pong and darts. It turned out we were all so bad, we could only laugh. I was doubled over the ping pong table laughing for a while, then wiped the tears from my eyes. I cannot tell you how good that felt. The week before I laughed with a friend who I hadn’t spent time with in ten years. TEN YEARS! It is amazing how quickly time flies while you are busy. Make time for your friends. That is what is missing from your life, or at least it was missing from mine. I have promised a few people to meet for coffee – I haven’t forgotten! You can expect a message from me soon, I promise!

I won tickets to a play from Newfoundland that is making its way across Canada, No Change in the Weather. It played at the Westbury in Old Strathcona. I went with my daughter, and all I can say is she is delightful to spend time with; I enjoy her company tremendously.

A good friend of ours just retired, and her children threw a surprise party for her. She didn’t know all the details, but she could no longer use her symphony tickets, so she offered them up to us. I have been attending the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (ESO) since I was five and my grandma to me to see Sing-A-Long with Mitch. I don’t get to go often, but I really enjoy it when I do. I particularly enjoy the Christmas performances. The ESO is performing the music of Star Wars in November, and their Christmas series is in December. I think I might go if for no other reason than to sing the Canadian National anthem with the ESO. THAT is always fun for me! It is an elevated level of sophistication you don’t get at the Oiler’s game.

Sunday, I went exploring with one of my most favourite humans. We poked around downtown Edmonton, and you can expect a full trip report on that adventure in the coming weeks. But let me give you a little teaser – it was all for the ‘gram.

Now that it is October, its time to plan out free things to do in Edmonton!

  1. Smokey Lake Pumpkin Festival – okay, this isn’t in Edmonton and you need a car to get there, but it’s mostly free. Smokey Lake is about an hour and change northeast of Edmonton. Some things cost money but you get the chance to see pumpkins the size of cars. I am going for the first time this year. My family is on a quest to find sugar pumpkins for pie. I didn’t go to BC this fall, so I need locals ones. Plus I cook some up for my pal Cap. Pumpkin is his favourite. I love a good road trip and this one shows promise. If you see me, come say hi! It happens on October 5th.
  2. Visit Government House. Free Tours are offered on Sundays. There are a couple of good ghost stories to go with the tour, ask them the one about men being locked in the upstairs room. The general rule is to never be alone in that room if you are male. You will not get out. Apparently, it has happened to several men who work there. Good ghost stories are ALWAYS appropriate in October. While you are there, visit the totem pole and learn about that history plus the other public art found on property. Bring your camera to experience the views of the river valley from up there. It is simply spectacular.
  3. Self-guided walking tours of Edmonton’s historic neighbourhoods. The City of Edmonton has downloadable brochures that take you around Downtown Edmonton, Oliver, Old Strathcona and Highlands. It explains a bit about the architecture and historical significance. Edmonton has some fascinating history, take a moment and read up on the early beginnings.
  4. Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve. Okay, this isn’t in Edmonton either, and you need a car BUT, have you ever watched the aurora borealis dance across Astotin lake or see the Milky Way? Elk Island Nation Park is part of the Beaver Hill Sky preserve, and it is free if you have a national park pass. If you don’t the next best thing is to visit Telus World of Science Observatory. It is open until 10 pm on Friday and Saturday nights. It shuts down if it is cloudy, so check the weather. If you are like me and enjoy watching the aurora borealis from your deck, sign up for aurora alerts here. They send you a note telling you when you can expect them or if. Red Alerts happen regularly, and when they do, you can see them in Edmonton’s skies.

Edmonton Festivals

Edmonton has festivals all years round, and three are happening in October. They aren’t free, but they may interest you. I will be attending Litfest because BOOKS ARE MY LIFE. And seriously, who doesn’t want to go to a book festival?

September 26 – October 5 Edmonton International Film Festival

October 16-19 Edmonton Comedy Festival

October 17 – 27 Litfest

Whatever you do this month, get out and enjoy Edmonton.

Edmonton Tourist: South East Public Art

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One of my favourite things about Vancouver after the Ocean and the Mountains is the abundance of public art. You can find it on most street corners downtown and always in pubic parks. My favourite piece is the A-maze-ing Laughter found at English Bay. Visiting Vancouver turned me on to public art in a way I never noticed in Edmonton.

Some people I know usually talk about art in terms of its stupidity or waste of money. Someone always has an opinion on how to spend tax dollars better. I think public art is culturally important. It helps identifies us as a people who recognize the value arts brings into a community. No doubt art is subjective. You either love it or hate it but its intent is to make you feel and start a conversation.

In 1991, Edmonton passed a policy called Percent for Art. Currently, Edmonton allocates 1% of the qualifying construction budget of any publicly accessible municipal project (% project) for the procurement of art to be publicly displayed. The Edmonton Arts Council is the steward of this program. I never thought of Edmonton as a city invested in the arts, I looked at the public art in Edmonton as an element of design – not a city being deliberate in supporting the arts. Then I stumbled upon THIS WEBSITE. It is an online gallery of all the public art in Edmonton.

It was as if I woke up.

That meant the giant shoes at the Southgate LRT were deliberately put there as public art. The Talus Dome, arguably Edmonton’s most controversial art installation is also a part of this program.  “Before the Quesnell bridge was constructed, talus forms of earth occurred naturally along the river valley. The artwork reminds us of the landscape that has been altered by the bridge, a rigid, controlled construction that meets our need to traverse the obstacle of the river. It refers to the coexistence of the man-made and the natural.”  Okay – so there is significance to the sculpture. It was all coming together for me.

As I scrolled through the City of Edmonton Public Art Gallery, I decided to tour my ‘hood and check out the different pieces of public art. I am guilty of travelling to the river valley far too often to explore Edmonton and I never looked at my neighbourhood as a place to tour. I made a list of the public art pieces in my neighbourhood and spent an afternoon exploring. My East-West grid was 17 street – 91 street. My North-South grid was Whitemud Freeway to Ellerslie Road.

Landscape Series 1 by Erin Ross was my first stop. This installation is located at Mill Woods Park on the northside of the building by the football field. All prairie paintings that showcase Alberta skies.

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Next stop was Mill Woods Public Library for three separate installations.

Jordie Bonet’s Untitled. 10 panels each weighing over 2000lbs. Can you imagine the undertaking it took to install this piece? It was originally located at the Cenntenial Library before it became the Stanley Milner. This is located in the fiction section on the east side of the library.

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This next piece, Phantasien by Tim Edler and Jan Edler is inspired by The Neverending Story. It is a study room clad in mirror with coloured lights. Its kind of trippy and students were studying in it. But I can see the appeal of being in there. Art can be functional too.

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Upstairs in the Mill Woods Senior Centre is Milled Wood by Destiny Swiderski.

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After leaving the Library, I travelled a block away to the South Division Police Station to see the nine canvasses of Encompass by Allen Ball.

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Then off to Ivor Dent Sports Field to see Inspiral Arches from one of my favourite artists, Dylan Toymaker. If you have been to Victoria Oval or the Flying Canoe Festival and have seen the light installations, then you are already familiar with Toymaker’s work.

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It was time to go closer to home and visit the Meadows. The Meadows Recreation Centre and Public Library also has a couple installations. My favourite is Wheatfield with Crows by Konstantin Dimopoulos. I love how it sways in the breeze just like wheatfields.

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Inside the library was Sculpture in Landscapes by Cliff Eyland. Catalogue card-sized landscapes. This was a cool choice for the library.

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And finally, Parade 1 by Gabe Wong (Parade two is aquatic animals located at Lewis Transit Centre) located on the west side of the Meadows Transit Centre. The ladybug is my favourite.

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Wandering around my neighbourhood gave me a better appreciation for where I live and the fact that we have art accessible to everyone thrills me. I wonder who notices it? Let me know your favourite Edmonton Piece – maybe I will visit it next!

Edmonton Tourist: Thunder Lake Provincial Park

After working my summer away doing cool things. I took a much needed mental and physical break to do more cool things. This time of year I like to visit the west coast but I was there in the spring and honestly, I don’t have the vacation time or money to spend. I took my daughter to Disneyland for her 21st birthday this year. My children can convince me of anything but don’t tell them that. I am putty in their hands and they will always come first. Even now that they are adults, they are the most important thing to me. So, vacation dollars were wasted spent on her. That leaves me with enough spending cash to enjoy a staycation with a few little side trips. Honestly, Edmonton is just as interesting as hundreds of other cities I have visited, the only thing missing for me is the ocean. I still seek out water, it just doesn’t sound the same as my beloved Pacific Ocean.

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Day 3 of my staycation took me to Thunder Island Provincial Park. It is about a 100-minute drive northwest of Edmonton. This is another one of those places in Alberta that I had never been to. It amazes me that I have walked on Vimy Ridge, gazed up at the Sistine Chaple, explored the Seven Apostles and the Great Ocean Road, felt the spray of Niagra Falls, kayaked with orcas, hiked a rain forest, looked at a shrunken head and gazed upon the Book of Kells and stood at the top of the Cliffs of Insanity but I have not explored much of my home province. I am not sure what inspired me to explore Alberta Parks, but here we are.

I am having a hard time being alone with myself lately so I invited the hubs and my Chatterbox to join Captain and me on this day-trip north. I packed a lunch that included the hub’s favourite road trip cookie – the Fudgeo. The lunch is the classic hobo lunch my daughter(s) prefer while on a trip. It is an assortment of good cheese, Italian meats, crusty bread, balsamic and olive oil, veggie sticks and fruit. We threw in extra spicy Cheetos for funsies. I tossed in the trusted Bearclaw quilt that goes to all beaches with me and the 25-foot tether for Cap. There was a bear warning at this park – one was in the area so Cap needed to be close by…just in case.

We arrived at about 10:30-ish and headed straight for the day-use area. We had the vast parking lot to ourselves. We jumped out of the car at took in the view. This place was gorgeous. The leaves were beginning to turn and the air was crisp. Fall is definitely here.

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We walked along the beach for a bit and I imagine this place will be packed over the weekend.  For now, I was just enjoying the silence. Its something I had not experienced in a while. I thought it was quiet at Pigeon Lake but this was the kind of quiet that made you think you were the only person left on the planet. There were no car or boat sounds. No other human voices. Only the occasional bird. Even the trees were quiet, my daughter quipped, “they must be mad at each other”.

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We walked along the shore towards the pier, a small but reminiscent pier of my grandpa’s cabin at Isle Lake near Athabasca. It was solid but small and was yearning for a boat so we could go for a ride or head out to fish.

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As usual, my fraidy-cat dog walked on it and scared himself thinking he might get wet. He quickly scampered off so we decided to get on one of the trails to see what we could see.

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There was a look-out indicated on the map, so we planned to look for it. But the map wasn’t very useful. Eventually, we figured it out. First, we travelled along the shore.

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The water was smooth like glass. We saw beaver evidence and counted the loons on the lake – or ducks. They were so far out of my vision range, I couldn’t tell which they were. We watched a few bees gather pollen from the flowers. Thrive little bees, the world needs you!

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As we continued on our exploration, I pointed out asters and goldenrod, rosehips and dogwood, always reminding everyone they wouldn’t get scurvy being shipwrecked with me! Keeping Cap alive will also be important once we are shipwrecked because that boy is a hunter. He flushed out a grouse who flew into the tree to watch us. Cap was having a great time and I think he would have caught the bird had we let him go. With the bird in the tree, Cap was at the base just teasing it and laughing the whole time.

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We stood watching each other for a few minutes until the grouse had enough and flew off. Cap pulled Chatterbox into the brush but she slowed him down and we got him back on course.

We backtracked to the trailhead for the lookout which went straight up. You could tell we were out of the prairies and headed into the boreal region. More hills and forest than meadows and fields.

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When we reached the top, we discovered the ‘Lookout” was grown over and all you could see was choke cherries and hazelnut bushes.

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So much for seeing the lake from up high.

We walked along the road towards the beach to have our Hobo Lunch.

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Picnics are the best.

The drive home was quiet, mostly because I slept all the way. I think I am still recovering from my weekend at Pigeon Lake. Thunder Lake Provincial Park is gorgeous and I highly recommend packing up a picnic or your tent and go spend some time exploring this gem.

Edmonton Tourist: Pigeon Lake Provincial Park

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Up until this summer, I had never been to Pigeon Lake. I have lots of friends who have cabins out there or who spent summers on the water, but my family always went to  Miquelon Lake or Wabaum. Pigeon Lake was never a thought or possibility. I am not sure why. All I can say is, we missed out.

I created a big event for work that took place at Pigeon Lake Provincial Park. This required me to visit the park and get familiar with it so I could be an expert on facilities and location. I visited enough that I felt comfortable to plan activities and work in this environment. What I didn’t expect was learning how beautiful and lush this park is.

Pigeon Lake Provincial Park is located about an hour southwest of Edmonton, west on Hwy 13 and North on secondary 771.

The park is green and lush with ample day-use and overnight facilities. The Park’s staff is knowledgeable, accommodating and the most lovely humans to work with.  Work took place over in the Group Camping site for three days. Huge spots that accommodate up to 50 units, each come with a large four-foot diameter fire pit, camp shack, 10 electrical hook-ups and one water tap. We used this area to the maximum. We had games, workshops, campfires and concerts. But unless you plan your own weekend, these activities are not available to you. Sorry – but the Parks people have great interpretive activities going on over at the Day site near the camp store.

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I took time to explore the endless trail system that winds around the campground. Great for hikes and exploring. One morning a bright orange fox stopped on the road to look at me but as I pulled my camera out – he left me and made me feel like a liar as I told everyone I saw a fox. The mosquitoes were abundant as were the dragonflies. There were still wildflowers in bloom on the paths, such as asters and columbines.

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I explored the paths most travelled and the paths not taken. I felt like I betrayed Captain being there without him by my side.

But…

Once the dust settled on the weekend and I took a moment to enjoy the peaceful setting, I was grateful for the opportunity to explore parts of my province and be paid for it. As a traveller and explorer, you have no idea what that means to me. I have been to parts of the province I never would have thought to explore and all I can say is, wow Alberta, you are beautiful.

The best part of this park was the smells. I love the smell of the Boreal Forrest. We are on the cusp of the boreal and with that comes the smells of the aspens, low and high bush cranberries, deep loam and other vegetation only found outside of the city. The park was quiet except for our group – but we kept it quiet after 10 pm – an hour earlier than we were required to. Three steps down the path and suddenly you are in the middle of nowhere.

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I walked down to the beach. The park staff suggested I head to the boat launch because fewer people would be there rather than the day beach. They were right, just a family bringing in their boat on a Sunday afternoon. Further down the beach, people were in the water, apparently, it was a good year for swimming because there wasn’t enough heat to bloom the blue-green algae that prevent the lake from being swim accessible.

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As I stood on the peer I felt the tension of the weeks float away. I always loved being at the lake – didn’t matter what lake – I find water incredibly soothing to me. I prefer the ocean but lakes and rivers will do in a pinch. The energy is the same healing energy that soothes me.

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I walked a bit down the path that led to the day area but the screams and laughter from the playground made me reconsider. Instead, I headed in the other direction where the land was vacant of humans.

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If you camp, there are lots of options including yurts for a glamping experience. If you paddle a canoe or kyack, you are in luck, lots of open water to explore. The lake was filled with anglers trying their hand at capturing the daily catch. I was content just standing there watching the water lap against the shore.

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I know most people head to the North shore or Ma-Me-O Beach but I suggest you forgo the usual and head towards the Provincial Park, it doesn’t disappoint.

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