amazing autumn colour in Calgary and Edmonton
01.10.2008 - 03.10.2008 27 °C
Calgary isn't actually that bad. Contrary to my expectations and many, many opinions, it is actually quite a nice place. This could be because I caught it on a fabulous sunny autumn day, what is apparently a 25 year high. The trees are all amazing - luminous yellows and greens.
It is a city of tremendous contrasts; extremes of hot and cold, particularly the cold. Apparently average winter temperatures are -10 and below; but when the Chinook (a warm wind that comes over the Rockies from the West) blows the temperatures can rise from -30 one day, to +5 the next. The city is designed for it, with a "+15" elevated walkway system that allows people to walk through the entire downtown core year round indoors.
I spent a day wandering around the downtown area with one of my hosts, and had a fantastic time. The sun was shining and most of the office workers seemed to be making the most of it. The streets were packed with people walking around and eating on the (few) sidewalk cafes. There is a central pedestrianised street (Stephen Mall on 8th Avenue) that was particularly vibrant. Apparently this is an unusual thing for Calgary as most people are normally inside due to the temperatures! Conditions get so bad in winter that there are 'mall walking groups' that walk through the (many, many) malls along the '+15' system to get exercise. There are also ballroom dancing groups that use the mall atrium's to practice in! It does add a different dimension to the typical mall...
Calgary is the centre of the Canadian oil business - the management and administration component, at least. As a result, the town is fueled by the oil money... The number of huge SUV's and gas-guzzling vehicles is astounding. As has been usual for me in Canadian cities I've experienced so far, the houses are not obnoxious. The suburbs of Calgary are typically Canadian - planned on a grid with fairy tight but generous plots. The houses look small and slightly shabby on the outside, but inside are really big - most seem to be 3 bedrooms minimum. I suppose there isn't much point in regularly painting your house if it is covered in snow for 8 months of the year...
After 2 nights in Calgary I boarded the Greyhound (with due care as to who I sat next to ) and arrived a couple of hours later in Edmonton. I was greeted at the station by old family friends, and was really happy to be welcomed into my second proper home in 2 days. The Davey's treated me to a fantastic salmon dinner, and then took me to visit the fabled (ha ha) West Edmonton Mall. It was quite an experience... Although, I can understand why it is such a popular place as the temperatures outside are so cold for most of the year. The fantastic (typically European) shopping streets aren't really viable when it is -20degrees centigrade outside. The West Edmonton Mall was the biggest mall when it was built (it is now the 3rd biggest, apparently) and has everything inside; from a water park complete with waves to an amusement park. I'm glad I saw it, but also happy that it was out of hours so it wasn't crazy with manic mall-goers.
The next day Tom and Ros drove me around, showing me the sights. Edmonton reminds me a lot of the highveld - especially with the dry yellow and orange autumn colours. There wasn't as much to 'do' as there was in Calgary, and the town is incredibly car-based. The most of all the Canadian cities I have been to so far. There were some lovely areas in 'Strathcona' and the university precinct.
After an afternoon of sightseeing, I boarded the "Canadian" train for the 2 night / 3 day journey to Toronto.