Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Month: June 2015

Two-wheel touring Edmonton

When setting off early on a Sunday morning for a longer ride around Edmonton on a hot summer day I thought I would take the opportunity to photograph some of the hidden gems, scenic spots and my favored rest stops around the city.

On the grounds of the Royal Alberta Museum and adjacent Government House are two very different landmarks commemorating provincial milestones. Gangwon province in Korea twinned with Alberta to foster agricultural cooperation and this pavilion was meant to mark the 30th anniversary of that friendship while celebrating Alberta’s centennial in 2005. The Jeongia are traditional Korean pavilions were people and nature come together and are often used as a summer retreat in a deep valley and given Edmonton’s river valley is only metres away the choice of location seems fitting. 20150628_073102

Immediately to the left of the Korean pavilion is a majestic totem pole erected with many helping hands to mark the Universiade, the 1983 World University Games held in Edmonton. The 37-foot pole is in the Northwest Coast native style and was begun in Ksan, British Columbia and completed in Edmonton.

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Not far away is St. George’s Crescent, a quiet, leafy lane that winds around  Ramsay Ravine. The first house built on the crescent in 1914, The Graenon, is an Alberta Registered Historic Resource and parked in front almost as old as the house was a vintage French Citroën 2CV, it’s striking yellow adding a splash of colour to a darker background.

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One neighborhood in transition elsewhere in the city is just north of the Old Timers Cabin on Scona Road as a natural block long terrace that overlook Edmonton’s skyline has become popular with developers replacing the former tiny post-war houses with much larger modern boxes.  A small park on this ledge has become a favorite place to stop and admire the view from a handful of park benches as it takes in the whole of Riverdale, the Alberta Legislature as well as the tall towers that make up Edmonton’s skyline.

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With a million dollar view I guess it should be no surprise to find million dollar homes but was a little sad to see their arrival in what had been a quiet corner of the city.

A short distance away and almost in the shadow of the valley landmark pyramids of the Muttart Conservatory  is an outdoor gazebo popular with wedding parties for photographing their big (expensive) day. Happy or unhappy couples can rent the gazebo for $200 per hour from the city and when not in use for special occasions it makes a nice shady rest spot before the climb up Mill Creek Ravine.

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Mill Creek Ravine has become a favored cycling haven for its canopy of trees which completely covers trails in many spots offering a cool escape from the hot summer sun as well as a choice between paved or dirt trails. On the valley floor many small bridges have been built over the creek while on higher ground former railway trestles have been repurposed as trails including one built between 1900 and 1902.

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This trestle formed part of the Edmonton, Yukon and Pacific Railway which transported both passengers and goods from the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) line south of what was then the town of Strathcona into Edmonton’s downtown by way of the Low Level Bridge. The last freight train rumbled though in 1954 and the tracks were pulled up shortly thereafter.

Getting off the paved track at the trestle leads hikers and cyclers down the valley past a beloved summer tradition, the outdoor Mill Creek Pool. While records show a swimming hole on this spot over a hundred years ago the current pool dates back to 1954 and despite a few attempts to close it since remains popular as a cool oasis in a green ravine.

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Just off the ravine in the King Edward Park neighborhood is a sporting tradition of a colder kind but from the same era as the Shamrock Curling Club opened in 1956. The club has undergone a rebirth in the last year creating a haven for novice curlers and sports a brand new colourful curling mural on an exterior wall.

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I curled at the Shamrock once upon a time but was more focused on the action on the ice than the surroundings so don’t recall much about the club although it is good to see its recent rebirth.

Elsewhere in King Edward Park I noticed a number of Korean food stores, restaurants and a church and it brought to mind the Korean pavilion I’d seen at the start of the ride. Having really fallen for Seoul on a past visit I made a mental note to return to this area to try the cuisine at one of the local restaurants.

Wanting to pass on my love of cycling I visited my seven year old niece Ashley for a quick spin around a sprawling park a few blocks from her Millwoods home. Suitably sporting a layer of elbow, knee pads and helmet as well as a coating of suntan lotion we rode together and had a grand time and hopefully it’s the first of many such rides.

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The last stop on my ride was the first for others on Edmonton’s High Level Bridge Streetcar which runs between a terminus at Jasper Avenue over the High Level Bridge to the Strathcona Terminal just off Whyte Avenue on the city’s south side. Edmonton #33 is a streetcar fully restored to its original 1912 condition and snapped some photos at the Grandin stop which is barely a block from the Legislature.

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The age of streetcars in Edmonton lasted from 1908 to 1951 and was revived temporarily in 1979 before becoming a permanent addition to the local landscape in 1997. From a single streetcar in 1980 the Edmonton  Radial Railway Society now boasts a fleet of nine operational streetcars including some from other Canadian cities such as Saskatoon, Regina and Toronto as well as others from Hannover, Melbourne and Osaka.

Pointing the handlebars homeward I am reminded that there are areas of the city I’ve called home for 30+ years I’m still discovering on my rides and that getting off the usual grid we take with our cars in our daily routine is often a good thing.

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Life’s a beach in Puerto Vallarta

There are some trips I invest great gobs of time researching well in advance and then there are other escapes that I try to avoid doing anything and a recent holiday in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico falls into the latter category and will admit my plan to do nothing worked out exactly as planned.

Having the rare good fortune to win a seven night all-inclusive stay for two in a one bedroom suite at the four star Velas Vallarta I opted for a late May departure to coincide with some WestJet seat sales, booking well in advance of course. A long-time friend who has travelled with me before agreed to risk her sanity and travel with me again to the edge – or at least the edge of the continent. It was much like past all-inclusive resort stays where I inflict my abominable Spanish phrases upon the staff who they in turn smile and nod politely as they’ve no doubt become accustomed to doing however one memorable difference was the view front the big balcony looking out over the beach to the Bay of Banderas.

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This four star all-inclusive is built in a U shape and sprawling in the centre is a series of pools starting just off the beach and connected by a lazy river to what turned out to be my preferred hideaway, the quiet pool. Curled up in a comfortable lounge chair under a vine covered pergola reading and watching the day, iguanas and peacocks all pass by was the sum total of activity I felt inclined to muster. Puerto Vallarta 123

Puerto Vallarta 019Despite a rainy forecast the weather the whole week in Puerto Vallarta was humid and hot, so hot in fact that by noon the clay bricks used in the walkways around the resort grew to a blistering temperature as the bottoms of my feet soon found out.  Later the next day my pasty white chest & shoulders also burned the more conventional way after what I thought to be a very short spell laying in the sun. It was quite a dubious record as I hadn’t blistered the bottoms of my feet and sunburned in the same tropical vacation.

Normally I would’ve been encamped on the sand in and out of the surf for much of the day every day but from arrival for the first half of the week high waves and strong current kept me beached. I was able however to spend a chunk of one day in the ocean when the swells fell much to my delight and the bodysurfers chagrin.

Puerto Vallarta 028Puerto Vallarta 063While not a brand new resort the Velas Vallarta is immaculately maintained by a small army of staff and the lush, natural beauty
is augmented by some feathered local residents who never missed a chance to strut their stuff.

The lobby with its graceful stacked arches are as visually appealing as the grounds night or day and a staffer who noticed me admiring the space mentioned the owners were an engineer and an architect which seemed to make more sense as the whole resort has a continuity in its traditional Mexican design. Puerto Vallarta 163

Puerto Vallarta 031There was one day of travel consultant work visiting two other resorts within the Velas group, the cozy and adult only Casa Velas and the larger Grand Velas with its outstanding multi-level infinity pool that leads down to the beach. These two hotels are a little more upscale and newer than Velas Vallarta which is 25 years old although it hides its age well as hardware improvements have been made in recent years with items like flat screen TV’s and larger digital room safes.

 

Having not been to Puerto Vallarta for too many years I wanted to spend a half day sightseeing in the downtown and walk the Malecón, a wide pedestrian boulevard running alongside the ocean. This area has undergone a major reconstruction over the past few years and is much more walkable than on my last visit so it was pleasant to amble along admiring the view.

Puerto Vallarta 182Steps from the Malecón through the Plaza de Armas with its bandstand is the city’s famous landmark, the steeple of the Our Lady of Guadalupe church that’s worth a short visit to both escape the heat of the midday sun and admire its white interior from a back pew. Services are conducted in both Spanish and English on Sundays should you wish to attend a mass.

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Should the shopkeepers along the Malecón not been persuasive enough to entice you inside the Isla del Rio Cuale handicraft market is nearby with local leather goods, jewelry and decorative souvenirs of all kinds in small shops sheltered in the shade of some seemingly ancient trees. The good natured exchanges with the local shop owners was a bit of fun and I managed to barter with one on a small “Mexico” sign made out of one letter each from different state licence plates nailed to a wood frame but I try not to make an offer on an item unless it’s something I really want as some merchants don’t take too kindly to insincere shoppers.

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We began our market walk on the east side of the island by crossing on one of a handful of hanging pedestrian bridges that swayed with every step. Starting at this end of the island made not only for a mostly downhill stroll but deposited us where the island ends and the Cuale River flows into the ocean metres from the  Malecón bringing us right back to where we’d started an hour or two earlier.

When hailing a taxi back to the resort it’s always wise to ask the flat price before stepping in as we found there can be a difference from cabbie to cabbie. The cool waters of the pool at the Velas Vallarta we welcome after our day visit to downtown Puerto Vallarta but I very much enjoyed this resort escape and would encourage others to spend some time exploring on their own as the city has much to offer.

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The sun’s slow descent into the Pacific draws a small crowd nightly as the sunsets always seem a little more magical in the tropics.

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As if it were planned our last night at the resort was capped off with a small fireworks show just before midnight making for a memorable send off to what really was a relaxing vacation with a friend.

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