Our one day in Calgary was spent walking among sky scrapers and dodging building site roadworks – Calgary is certainly a city on the up. That said, it is in fact currently going through a recession. Oil extraction up in northern Alberta has become more complicated as drilling for oil becomes less possible and the need to extract oil through sand becomes the more common method meaning the oil sourced requires great refinement making the process very costly*….add the low global oil prices and it’s not looking good for Calgarians. As we walked through downtown though, we didn’t see any sign of a recession. Right in the heart of downtown, there were enormous glass sky scrapers on a par with some of Dubai’s towers and some even tinted gold for that real wealth effect. As soon as you leave the sky scrapers, you meet cranes and roadworks where new towering apartment blocks are being stacked.
We were staying in what seemed to be a suburban area on 14th Avenue (I’m already saying avenooo rather than avenewww) which looks to be pre-dating the high rises which started being built in the 1980s…trees, grass lined sidewalks and houses with little front gardens and big porches to watch the world go by are a bit of a contrast to the towering apartment blocks which dot downtown. A small aside that interested us (and maybe only us!) is that behind the houses and at the end of the gardens, there is a dirt track where people have back entrances to their houses and keep their bins and park their cars – what luxury this seems to be for us Brits whose fence at the bottom of the garden goes straight onto next door’s garden or house. Another reminder of the vast space in this country and we have only been here for less than 24 hours!
Anyone who knows Himself and myself will know that we like our food and on reading that breakfast is a big deal in Canada, we decided that we ought to try it out. We made our way to the 1886 Buffalo Cafe at Eau Clare which was brilliantly rustic in a way that doesn’t seem to be found in the rest of downtown…the guidebooks say it’s the spot that the realtors forgot and whilst the prices were relatively reasonable, I think it’s a good pull for tourists. Either way, we were very happy to have our first Canadian breakfast there accompanied by a huge buffalo head on the wall and Himself was delighted that the diner legend of free refills of coffee was in fact true (I think I’m going to switch to coffee for the next three months). I ordered a Breakfast Sundae which consisted of a huge ice cream sundae glass filled with granola, plain yoghurt and tinned peaches with a side of buttered toast – delicious! Himself had a Kenny Special and whoever Kenny is, his idea of a plate of scrambled eggs with spring onions, green pepper, tomato and cheese with hash browns and a side of toast was very well received! The downstairs of the cafe had dozens of black and white photos of Calgary in the 1880s and 1920s when it was a hub for the Eau Clare lumber company and the Bow River was presumably the main transport route for lumber.
Speaking of the Bow River, I was expecting a standard sludge brown city river but the big Bow River running through Calgary is blue, almost clear and very fast. It is a clear example of the well preserved nature in this city, despite there being a population of over 1,000,000. The city has made 241 kilometres (so says the Rough Guide to Canada) of walking and cycle paths for the Calgarians to enjoy and most of these are alongside the Bow River. Although the three lane roads are full of big pick up trucks and jeeps, the air is really clear and un-polluted and as soon as you get onto the Bow River Path, you could be out of the city as you take in the smells of the fast flowing river water, trees, grass and summer rain (yes, our one day in Calgary was rainy!).
We chose to only have one day in Calgary as reading about it made us think that it didn’t sound like the place for us and we are both pleased that we made that decision. We packed up our bags again last night and this morning headed out in the early morning sunshine to the Greyhound bus terminal to catch our bus to Grande Prairie. This is where we are at now, sitting on a bus watching the snow capped Rockies in the distance across the flat prairies.
*This is by no means definitive – we got this information from a brief early morning chat with our host!
Culture shock of Canada #1- pedestrians have right of way a lot of the time! If you want to cross a road and a car is coming, they will slow and wait for you to cross. If you are at a big interchange with four lanes of traffic, you wait until the traffic on your side of the road facing the direction you are going gets to go and then you cross with them. If they want to turn right (into the road you are walking across), they have to wait for you to cross!