A Taste of Edmonton

It is my last day in Edmonton before I head out on a one month trip from Vancouver, cross the US, to Toronto. But before I leave the capital of Alberta, I will write one last blog about some of the many things that Edmonton has to offer.

Edmonton is not a beautiful city. It is way too spread out and unless you have a car, living here would be a hell. However, in between the more or less disastrous skyscrapers and thousands of dog-trucks, Edmonton has a certain charm. Most of this comes from the people living here. As I have said before, people in Edmonton, Alberta and Canada seem so welcoming, chit-chatting and easy-going. Half the experience of Canada, I would argue would be in meeting the hospitality of the Canadians.

But there are other things that make Edmonton worth a visit.

Farmer’s Market

Every Saturday in Old Strathcona, near Whyte Avenue, Edmontonians gather at the Farmer’s Market. Now I have been to many markets around Europe and enjoyed the good food and specialities from France to Turkey, and from Sweden to Spain. I have also grown up as most Europeans knowing that I should stay clear of American produced food since you never know what pesticides, genetic manipulations and flying saucers have been involved in their production. Therefore, I was very (emphasising very) pleasantly surprised by the Farmer’s Market in Old Strathcona. Not only is the Market full of shopping Edmontonians in all ages, sizes and colours. It is also a central hub for some of the most amazing things that the surrounding Alberta and BC can provide. Here are tasty cherries, blood red tomatoes, home-made cakes and salsas. There are pottery, patchworks, sugary popcorn and several variations of honey. There are tastings and good humour, and all the products are organic and grown and produced with love. – My favourite stand was the Lebanese The Happy Camel where we bought some great salsa’s and cream cheeses for our lunch.

This Saturday, while shopping around Farmer’s Market a major festival was happening all over Edmonton. The city is known throughout Canada for its multitude of festivals and events, and this week it happened to be a festival celebrating street art and street performance. Hundreds of local artists were showing off their paintings on Whyte Avenue, cascading a huge variety of semi-professional artwork.

Another festival running its curse in July is Taste of Edmonton down at Churchill Square where local restaurants and food vendors make little tastes for the public. The 27 year old tasting tradition is hugely popular and filled with live music and lots and lots of different food.

Close to Churchill Square and the 50 or so food vendors is the bus stop for the Historical Tours of Old Edmonton. Though the city doesn’t have much history to boast with and the tour quickly becomes directed at Edmontians with information such as: ‘at the 9th hole of the golf course to your left you can see the remnants of an old brickyard’ it is still an excellent way to get to know the city. The old 1950th bus adds to the attraction of the tours.

West Edmonton Mall

An endless haze of shops and build in attractions, West Edmonton Mall was for almost two decades until 2004 known as the worlds largest enclosed shopping mall. With 570.000 m2 and more than 800 shops the mall can still boast to be the biggest in North America and the fifth largest in the world. Except from the endless shops, the mall also houses an amusement, a waterpark, a large cinema and a year-round ice rink.

It is consumer heaven. It is far from charming and to a large extent disturbing. However, due to its enormity it is worth a visit.

Bifrost

But what has left the biggest impression on me during my time in Edmonton? Rainbows

Never in my life have I seen such beautiful rainbows as in Edmonton, Alberta. Though the province is named Wild Rose Country, I would argue that at least the capital should be known as Rainbow Edmonton. Often rain-clouds encircle the city while the surrounding area is still clear. This means that one of natures most stunning phenomenons, rainbows, show up on the sky. And not just any rainbow, but complete and strongly visible rainbows which seem to encapsulate the entire Downtown.

Good-bye for now Edmonton. I hope to enjoy your hospitality again some day!

Zofka

First Impressions

Canada Day

I arrived on the 30th and after going to bed early, I woke up fresh early in the morning of July 1. I was jet-lagged, 8 hours ahead of Edmonton, and pulling my boyfriend out of bed I jumped around eager to jump-start my first day in Canada, and my first ever Canada Day. Unlike any other day in Canada, the 1st of July is a day of celebration and joy, cultural and family-oriented events, music and play. It is regarded as Canada’s birthday!

Starting the day, we took the bus Downtown. Placing ourselves at the secluded seats at the end of the bus, we happened upon a somewhat desperate man. Not long after we had taken our seats did he engage us in conversation, telling us of what a terrible night he had had, being attacked and having his possessions stolen. As we got off the bus, we offered the man a coffee and some coins for calling and thrilled by the prospect of a hot coffee, he started long tails of how he would repay by buying us all kind of stuff with his huge stack of money. After polite chatters and as the clock was nearing 7.30 AM, we parted ways and my boyfriend and I headed towards the legislature building, which was promising to be the main place for Canada Day events.

The first planned event was also what I had been most excited about and the reason for my boyfriends abrupt wakening the same morning. A local Muslim community was baking pancakes for the public, treating everyone to a free breakfast. Now for some reason, the image of American pancakes with lots and lots of maple syrup is central to any perception of Canada I have ever held, and the idea of being served pancakes on my very first day made me ecstatic. After an hour of pancakes, maple syrup and enjoying the chatter of the many Edmontians stopping by, I was content. With a red maple leave on my cheek, several pins on my clothes and two flags in my Fjällräven backpack, I felt as having integrated into Canadian society over night.

Everyone was so friendly and chit-chatting was heard from all corners. Unlike any place I have ever been, there is an easygoing vibe in Canada, where people on the street joke and laugh with each other. Though I have only been here for a few days it is impossible for me not to think of the Canadians as some of the most friendly people I have met. I was almost glad when I came across a bad-mannered bus driver at the end of Canada Day, thinking that it almost seemed too much that people were so friendly towards each other.

But before encountering the bus driver, we enjoyed a few hours of watching Ukrainian and native dances. Edmonton was founded mainly by Ukrainians and as it seems with most diaspora the Edmontian Ukrainians are proud of their heritage. The Ukrainian folk dancing was thrilling and marvellously performed. I can not imagine that many young Ukrainians join the world of folk dancing and it pleases me to know that such traditions are kept alive in the diaspora scattered around the world.

As the major events at the grounds of the legislature building were over, we crossed the North Saskatchewan River and spent the rest of the day strolling up Whyte Avenue in the Old Strathcona district. The street is old in Canadian terms and many of the houses are build in the prairie style with fake facades showing

Zofka

Basecamp Edmonton

Welcome to the continent of chain stores, heavy trucks and endless raffles! Welcome to North America, more precisely the city of Edmonton (population 782439), capital of Alberta.

Information from YellowPages.ca:

Starbucks in Edmonton = 44
Second Cup in Edmonton = 41
Tim Hortons in Edmonton = 45

Not many people can boast that their first overseas adventure began in Edmonton. I dare say, not many tourists can boast to have visited this city, as it is not a major tourist attraction and is overshadowed by cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, and even Calgary. Though I shouldn’t mention Calgary in a blog about Edmonton, seeing as they are ardent rivals.

My plan is to stay in Edmonton for an entire month, while getting to know the life in Edmonton, something which has proven a bit difficult since I don’t have a driver’s license and buses seem a rarity here. Though having a city population of near to 800000, and an area population of 1.15 million, it seems that the system of public transport is far from thoroughly developed. This is surely due to the widespread practice of owning one or more cars, or perhaps the amount of cars is a consequence of the lack of sufficient public transportation. Nonetheless, there are only a few buses and a swarm of trucks, some of them the size of buses.

The trucks look like dogs, and to me they would seem grotesque in any city centre. However, as Edmonton is a city with such open space and far distances they become less obvious in the city scenery. In Europe the owner of such trucks are frowned upon, and it is the fashion to think environment and economy when choosing what often becomes a small hybrid European or Japanese car. But this fashion has yet not reached Edmonton to any great extend, highly likely because of the long distances, lack of public transport and cold winters. But enough about my fascination with the ‘dog-trucks’.

As mentioned Edmonton spreads out on a large area covering more land than New York, or so I have been told. In the middle of the city lies a large valley of green which separates the new and ‘old’ city centres. This valley is apparently 22 times larger than Central Park, NY and is dominated by the North Saskatchewan River over which runs old rustic metal bridges for the use of crossing from one city part to the other. In this way, though Edmonton holds some long distances, it also has a welcoming green feel to it.

My neighbourhood

I am visiting my boyfriend who is currently residing on the border to the more dodgy end of Edmonton at the Avenue of Nations. Though dodgy, this place however has its charm and I am happy to get the chance of experiencing it up close. It is a neighbourhood that according to several posters around does not tolerate prostitution and encourage people to report-a-John (John being the nickname of a pimp). It is moreover a neighbourhood of many different nationalities hence the name of the central street. Around the corner from where I live lies the Hellenic Cultural Centre, A Chinese Memorial, a local mosque and across from the apartment lies Olson’s Curling and a pawnshop. This is all mingled in with the local Starbucks, Second Cup, 7-Eleven, Blockbuster and so forth – only lacking a Tim Hortons to be complete. It is not pretty, but it has a certain feeling to it of a neighbourhood that encompasses everything, – excluding the John who has to work in secret of the haunting posters.

In the local supermarket, at the customer service; three raffles are going on. According to the man behind the desk these are hugely popular. I even encountered one sneaky customer who, knowing that the raffle for the stove was on its last day, bought a ticket and with all his hand in the raffle box tried to place his ticket somewhere in the middle, so it would be well placed. Sneaky he thought – until I mentioned the possibility that they might shake the box before finding the winner.

I am really looking forward to becoming better acquainted with both the city and the neighbourhood this following month.

Zofka