Who are we

We are a family of 3 who took a break from our routine. Usually we live in Scotland but February to the end of July 2011 we were on the road in North America for 6 months. We are Mark (also known as Dad), Rachel (also known as Mum... and a whole bunch of other names... my usual at-home blog is here) and little h (10/11 years of age during the trip).

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Alberta part 2 – cities and dinosaurs

We’re just back into Ontario now but still getting through the backlog of posts. Here’s the rest of our adventures in Alberta.

Because we had driven from Banff up to Jasper (rather than the other way round) we came out of the Rockies near the more northern of Alberta’s two big cities – Edmonton. So, after a quiet, just-get-some-food-and-sleep night in a little place called Hinton, we did indeed make our way to the city with the big mall on Saturday 2nd July. Yes, one of Edmonton’s main claims-to-fame these days is that it has a great big mall/shopping centre (the West Edmonton Mall) and whilst we are not exactly professional shoppers we had been advised that it was a worth a look. So we looked.

We were expecting, I don’t know, miles and miles of mall – a whole city of mall perhaps – but in all honesty I think I’ve probably been in bigger shopping centres elsewhere (like in the UK). What the W.E.M. has that is more unusual, however, is all the extras on display – a giant wave/swimming pool, an ice rink, a sea lions show, a fairly huge ship (in the middle of the shopping area), a whole indoor fairground – and we did pass a couple of entertaining hours looking at all these attractions, watching skaters, going on rollercoasters and so on. We had a slice of pizza in the food court (‘Gourmet World…’), did a tiny bit of shopping and then moved on. It was very busy in there – a friendly atmosphere – but it was a sunny day outside and we were happy to get back out again. I can see why folks need something like the mall in Edmonton in the long winters… and I suppose they are pretty far from the water so the wave-pool must keep the kids happy year round too.

We had booked a night in downtown Edmonton but the hotel had other ideas and had moved us to a sister hotel a little further out of the centre. It was annoying at first but in the end not a problem as Edmonton’s downtown didn’t seem particularly inviting (a bit 1970s in places… not necessarily in a good way) and the place they moved us to was in the Strathcona/university area on Whyte (“the cool street” so we were advised by the lovely and supremely helpful receptionist in the new place). We were tired and hungry by the time we got into the hotel but even our sleepy eyes could see that it was a nice, hanging-out kind of an area and we ended up in a really welcoming Irish pub for dinner and Guinness (or water). It had live music and everything – very civilised.

The next day, Sunday 3rd July, we drove down the highway (the Queen Elizabeth II highway no less) to Alberta’s other big city, Calgary. The road was pretty busy with people heading back to the city after the holiday weekend but it’s not too mighty a journey and we stopped for lunch at Red Deer (pretty name, pretty much an endless plaza kind of a town). We’d booked a downtown hotel in Calgary (almost by accident) and so we ended up spending a very pleasant Sunday evening in a little no-frills Vietnamese restaurant on the edge of Calgary’s teeny Chinatown. We also took some photos of the downtown area and wandered about a little bit. The city was very much getting itself ready for the huge Stampede event that takes place every July… and of course there was another royal visit pencilled in too (not just ours)...

As well as the Rockies and the Stampedes and so on Alberta is also famous (or infamous, depending on your view) for the oil sands exploitation that is bringing wealth to the area. TV ad time in the province is liberally peppered with “yes, we’re really doing our best to keep it green” type public info films and so we were interested to visit something connected to the industry. Our guide book had information about an exhibition on the subject at the Energy Resources Conservation Board but the book’s a little out of date and the exhibition isn’t there anymore. We were told it had all been moved to the Science museum but that was closed for the summer (for renovations, we think). So, basically we didn’t see anything but the TV ads… but you can read about the sands all over the web (say here, the pros, or here, a balanced article).

On the Monday we headed down to one of Calgary’s attractions – Heritage Park on the south side of the city. It was a lovely sunny day (but not too baking) and we spent a very happy day exploring 19th (and early 20th) Century Alberta – the buildings, outfits and customs of the folk who arrived there from elsewhere and settled. It’s quite a big site, Heritage Park, but a manageable size and with lots of transport options for getting around (steam train etc.) and a section called Gasoline Alley about transport and fuel. A lot of the buildings are originals that were moved to the site and the whole place is quite fascinating and very smart and organised. We ate in a 19th century-style hotel at lunchtime (though pretty regular food), went on early 20th century fairground rides, learned all sorts about all the different people who came to Calgary around this time. As it was summer break there were a couple of groups of kids doing ‘summer camp’ Heritage style (i.e. all in costume, living in the Park as though it really were in the past) - it looked a lot of fun! Best of all for h (and the rest of us day visitors), there was an ongoing bit of professional street theatre during the afternoon with little sections of the play acted out in different locations around the site (all in costume etc.). The piece was well done so we followed it through all its 4 acts to the end and h’s retelling of the story is below:

While in Heritage Park in Calgary there was a street-play. The story was about two friends Wendy Wickham and Gertrude Grimshaw and also two men called Herman and Charlie who are friends as well. At the start of the story Charlie and Wendy met and instantly liked each other. Gertrude got a book about making boys like girls from a strange salesman. The book didn’t help when Wendy and Charlie wanted to speak to each other because it told her to pretend she had another boyfriend to make him jealous. They both left.

Herman wanted to help his friend Charlie, but he wasn’t much use at love. Herman decided to buy some love potion and get Charlie to spray it on Wendy. Herman bought the potion from the same salesman who sold the book to Gertrude. They went to the hall where Wendy and Gertrude were to try it out. Charlie was nervous about it and Gertrude came out first and got sprayed by accident. She fell instantly in love with Charlie (because she saw him first) and chased him down the street. Wendy came and was furious that Gertrude was so infatuated with Charlie. Gertrude didn’t care and insisted that she marry Charlie. The salesman, dressed as a reverend with dog collar and false beard, declared that he would marry the two (for a fee). Gertrude walked off, and declared the wedding would be later that afternoon.

Herman said to Charlie that he would get an antidote (some hate potion) and spray it on Gertrude, to put things right. When it was time for the wedding, Charlie was ready to spray Gertrude, but this time Wendy got in the way at the wrong time and Charlie sprayed her! Wendy now hated Gertrude, her friend, because she saw her first! They fought and argued. Gertrude still loved Charlie and wanted to marry him. The salesman, dressed as a reverend, tried to sort it out. He failed. Wendy and Charlie decided to meet at the grocery store in half an hour.

At the store everyone came out of the shop arguing. The salesman was looking like himself now. Charlie asked him to tell them which potion was which. The salesman did that. Herman accidentally sprayed himself and fell in love with Gertrude! Charlie explained the problem to the salesman. The salesman told Herman he would spray him back to normal. Herman protested, but the salesman sprayed him anyway. The group kept asking for the reverend and the salesman. The salesman had to keep switching costumes. One time the salesman came out as the reverend, but came out without his false beard. The group now knew something was up! Herman reminded them that the potions did work. The salesman admitted that he didn’t think that the potions would work and told them the disgusting ingredients. Charlie suddenly said that he would marry Gertrude if she wanted. Charlie leaned in to kiss Gertrude, but instead of a kiss Charlie sprayed Gertrude with the hate potion. She pushed him out of the way, now not interested in him any more. Herman and Gertrude took the salesman away to the Mounties. Wendy and Charlie went into the grocery store together. Wendy said that she didn’t have the boyfriend she mentioned earlier so they started to make friends. We followed the cast all around the Heritage Park. It was a bit confusing but it was very good.

We left Heritage Park when it closed at 5pm (having squeezed every bit of entertainment and education from the day…) and drove to a place just outside Calgary for our overnight stay (Strathmore – we pretty much just ate and slept there). Our photos of Edmonton and Calgary are below (Calgary starts at the red flags with the cowboys on – I missed getting a shot of the city sign…)

Edmonton & Calgary

On Tuesday 5th July we made our way to one of Alberta’s other key draws – the Royal Tyrrell Museum (the centre of all things dinosaur). We passed through Drumheller (the museum is just outside there) and entered what they call the Alberta Badlands (amazing scenery – like lots of little Grand Canyons). We had been told to watch out for prairie dogs (gophers to some) and we didn’t have to wait long – one came visiting in the museum’s café patio when we were getting a quick bite in between science lessons. The museum was (to use a much used word in North America) awesome and we particularly enjoyed the areas that told all about the special discoveries that have been made in Alberta (lots of fossils – there is a whole genus Albertosaurus). As well as that though there was a whole ‘trip through the ages’ area (that took, well, ages to get through… h lasted longer than I did…) and a garden of things that grew back in the Cretaceous period (i.e. between 65.5 and 145.5 million years ago). Oh and there was a gift shop… of course.

We had a good long visit, a bake in the car park outside, a look at all the prairie dogs running wild around the car park (so cute!) and then a drive to our last stop of the trip in Alberta (Brooks – again just for food and sleep). The next day we drove out of Alberta (past a lot of cows – they get all that Alberta Beef from somewhere…) and into Saskatchewan. Our photos of Drumheller, the Royal Tyrrell Museum and our way out of the province are here:

The Badlands and Drumheller
Next time – Saskatchewan.


Titus said...

OOOOH! Skulls, hominin skulls!

Big spaces places, and by coincidence Craig's brother is leaving for Banff and environs next week.

h: I'm not surprised Herman, Charlie, Gertrude and Wendy left you a little confused.

Now, any photos of the Cambridges...?

Rachel Fox said...

Which Banff?

And Cambridges? No, we're keeping a few steps ahead of them. You may have noticed.


Titus said...

The Canadian one!

Rachel Fox said...

And do you know we've never been to the Scottish one! Must remedy that when we get back.

The Bug said...

Lovely photos, but my favorite is the traffic sign with the curling stone on it. Just kidding - Mike's just obsessed with curling in the Olympics :)

That is the fattest squirrel I've ever seen - even taking into account that it's sitting on its haunches. Man!

Rachel Fox said...

Curling is a very Scottish pastime - hence the interest in the sign.

Plus that prairie dog did seem to have dibs on all the food that hit the patio deck in the cafe. I guess that's why it looks so... healthy...