Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Month: September 2018

Reactions on the road to Canadian rock icons ‘Rush’

In my travels there are often memorable moments from each trip that I cherish fondly whether it be being mistaken for a local in Budapest or Buenos Aires or being recognized by a fellow Edmontonian at a cafe in Carcassonne but I wasn’t prepared for the recognition I received while sporting my Rush T-shirt while on a pair of recent holidays.

A devoted Rush fan since the 1980 release of the Permanent Waves album and having seen them a number of times in concert I chose this Summer day in Denver to wear my navy blue Rush R40 T-shirt which marked the final tour of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band after 40-years of making music.

In a half day of walking Denver’s downtown before my flight home I must’ve had half a dozen people comment on my T-shirt applauding the progressive Canadian rock pioneers.  Another such comment came quite unexpectedly while clearing customs at Iceland`s Keflavik Airport  when the young officer smiled and joked he was only allowing me to continue because I was a Rush fan. These encounters usually catch me somewhat off guard as it’s a fashion item that garners nowhere near the same interest when  running errands in Edmonton’s subdivisions however I have become more aware of the attire and the reaction it generates while travelling.

The recognition of the band internationally is audio ammunition to shoot down detractors who claim the band only became popular thanks to Canadian government radio regulations which mandate a minimum amount of Canadian content or ‘CanCon’ be played on radio. While government regulations may have exposed the band to a wider audience in its home and native land early in its career it doesn’t explain its enduring popularity beyond Canada that helped propel the “patron saints of brainy, technical, ambitious music” all the way to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame where they were inducted in 2013.

I wear my favorite band T-shirts in place of tattoos to show my affinity for the artists so it was a pleasant surprise to encounter such positive recognition of a power trio that’s been such a musical part of my life for all these years.

To borrow the title of the 2009 Paul Rudd/Jason Segel movie which features Rush prominently in its story line and includes a cameo by the band, if Geddy, Alex or Neil  happen to be reading this I Love You Man!

 

 

 

 

BaconFest YEG; Going Whole Hog

BaconFest YEG is an unadulterated one-day festival celebrating everything bacon with a side of  music and community spirit thrown in for good measure.

Now in it’s fourth year this culinary kaleidoscope of all things bacon went off at St. Basil’s Cultural Centre on Edmonton’s south side 2 September, 2018 and brought together eleven  Edmonton eateries who created specialty bacon dishes for the event:

The event reminded me of ‘Taste of Edmonton’ as patrons purchased $1 tickets to be redeemed at each of the food venues, most of which were indoors with the exception of the Makin’ Bacon food truck which was parked outside the main entrance.

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Indoors the options included pizza bacon bombs, bacon chili, and bacon-topped maple donuts.

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Destination Donuts bacon maple donuts were all kinds of delicious and made a nice dessert after the Sherlock Holmes Pub’s bacon chili and bacon sliders from Northern Chicken. My caloric guilt was mitigated by the time spent on the treadmill earlier in the day, a day that started with bacon!

The event was sold out and the crowd filled the auditorium with many sitting to digest the bacon bonanza.

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Upstairs was the so called ‘Sow Belly Lounge’ which featured maple and Cajun flavored bacon strips courtesy of Olymel and whisky and beer samples from a number of breweries including  Whitehorse-based Yukon Brewing whose Yukon Red is an excellent amber ale and Siding 14 Brewing Company from Ponoka who has a stand-out honey cream ale called Switch Point.

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Among the music acts is local high school student Jaedyn Pilon who does a very good Buddy Holly tribute right down to the thick, black-rim glasses and classic ‘Sunburst’ colour Fender Stratocaster.

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Pilon also does a 50’s Elvis and Johnny Cash tribute.

I’d read recently how bacon was so popular and addictive because it touched on all five human taste senses: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and Umami, a Japanese term roughly translated as a  pleasant savoury taste so when I saw the event online I couldn’t resist buying a ticket as who doesn’t love bacon, right?

My seemingly rhetorical question was answered when I parked my car and encountered a small group of protesters with signs and bullhorn in hand chiding the steady stream of bacon hungry Edmontonians for eating animals raised and slaughtered solely for our selfish momentary pleasure.

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Some event goers hurled parting put downs at the protesters while others took the offered hand-outs and while I respect the protesters views I don’t share them and will continue to enjoy my periodic morning bacon ritual and keep my radar on for the next BaconFest YEG event to try a whole new batch of bacon creations. If this is one guilty pleasure I can share with a slice of my fellow Edmontonians once a year then so be it.

Dive in to Downtown Denver

I have a confession to make. I tried redeeming a free airline ticket I’d won toward flights to other big U.S. cities including Nashville, Los Angeles and Boston but kept encountering  roadblocks in terms of  getting to or staying in each of those cities so ended up choosing Denver as a more workable western compromise with less travel and better value accommodation options. What seemed like a convenient compromise at the time however turned out to be an amazing Summer weekend escape in the Colorado capital because of a compact core that makes exploring its diverse districts on foot not only practical but preferred.

Many visitors arrive at Denver’s International Airport, known by its aviation code DEN, and the smart ones jump on the A -line commuter rail line that connects DEN and downtown Denver. This 23-mile, 37-minute ride is $9 one-way and the fare includes unlimited rides on the A-line the rest of that day.

After the short commute passengers disembark at the Beaux-Arts style Union Station, a 1914-vintage train depot that underwent a complete $54-million restoration and modernization project before reopening on its centenary in 2014.

The interior features soaring ceilings and a public area bathed in natural light from cathedral-like windows. The cafe in the center serves up specialty coffees consumed by patrons either at long, library tables or in comfy couches. I liked the black high back wood waiting room benches and Art Deco lamps that added a touch of nostalgia.

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In front of the station Wynkoop Plaza has become the popular city gathering point with seasonal restaurants and cafe terraces, farmer’s markets, outdoor performances and plenty of places to perch and enjoy kids cooling off in a splash pad.

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The plaza has a line in the paving stones that marks the meridian 105° west of Greenwich which runs from north to south poles but isn’t to be confused with the 100° meridian where the Great Plains begin.

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The blocks surrounding Union Station are home to a similar vintage of sturdy red brick warehouses that have been preserved and converted to hip lofts, shops, studios and offices.

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The Wynkoop Railroad Bridge is a 1908 cast iron bridge spanning Cherry Creek which is also named Manny’s Bridge after local resident Manny Salzman who in the mid-’90s helped spearhead efforts to save the city’s trestle bridges using city grants to turn them into pedestrian paths.

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Another area with huge heritage appeal is the Larimer Square district that houses Denver’s oldest and most historic block and is draped with glittering lights strung over the entire block.

The Victorian buildings are now home to specialty boutiques, galleries and unique chef-driven restaurants but the street was the birthplace of Denver in 1858 with shops, hotels and saloons that catered to prospectors and pioneers flooding the state during its gold rush. The original wood buildings were destroyed in 1863 by fires but the late Victorian brick buildings that replaced them date from the late 19th century.

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For the full effect visit Larimer Square at dusk to watch the sun go down and the lights come up.

The U.S. Mint Denver is a historic 1906 landmark that has kept its role as a key production facility for minting U.S. coins. In fact, the Denver Mint is the single largest producer of coins in the world with billions of pennies, nickels, dines and quarters rolling off the production line every year.

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The Mint offers six free tours a day at 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. however during peak Summer season demand is high and visitors line up as early as 5 a.m. to get one of the few tickets given out on a first come, first served basis as no online reservations are possible. As an early riser I thought I was safe arriving around 5:30 a.m. but found I was about 30th in line and had to settle for the first tour at 8 a.m. as those before me had selected the other morning tours leaving me no choice as I had to catch a late afternoon flight home.

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The tour lasts about 45-minutes but it’s well worth reading up about the rules for visiting the Mint as backpacks or bags are not allowed and there are no locker facilities on-site, cameras are not allowed and all cellphones must be powered off as all photography during the tour is prohibited.

Despite all the security the tour is well worth it since it’s a.) free and b.) interesting to see the coins being struck in huge quantities. While I’d read that the Mint loses money making pennies which was confirmed by the tour guide it actually makes money minting nickels, dimes and quarters and so is a self-sufficient entity within the U.S. government.

As a Canadian I couldn’t resist ribbing fellow American tour participants about how enlightened we are to have discontinued productions of the penny and moved to one and two dollar coins. Most took it with good grace but several commented that they couldn’t quite imagine an economy without small bank notes or pennies.

Taking the tour earns participants free money and a unique souvenir in the form of a cellophane-wrapped 2018 “D” mark Denver penny which is paired with a blank before its struck. The gift shop also has some unique items and one I picked up for cleaning around the house is a 4 X 10 inch microfiber cloth of the Benjamin Franklin $100 bill.

Public art is prominently displayed around downtown Denver and nowhere is it as noticeable as the 40-foot-high blue bear that appears to peer into the Colorado Convention Center.  Officially known as “I See What You Mean” and installed in 2005 artist Lawrence Argent wanted to inject a sense of fun and playfulness into the convention center experience and his whimsical artwork has quickly become a Mile High City icon.

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The 16th Street Mall is a 2-kilometer long pedestrian promenade that runs from Union Station to the Civic Center and is  home to over 300 locally owned or chain stores, over 50 restaurants, and the Denver Pavilions.

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There is a free shuttle bus service, operated by the Regional Transportation District (RTD), known as the Free MallRide, that stops on every corner.

At the opposite end of the downtown from Union Station is the Colorado State Capitol Building with its gleaming gold dome a very visible reminder of the 1858 Pike’s Peak Gold Rush that helped spur the creation of the Colorado territory a few years later and its eventual statehood in 1875. The dome’s colour comes from 65 ounces of gold-leaf applied in the most recent re-application in 2013.

Constructed of  white Colorado granite the building, which was designed to resemble the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., opened in 1894.

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Free tours of the state capitol are available every weekday between 10 AM – 3 PM and last one hour. While visitors are able to tour the building on their own only guided tours are able to access the dome and enjoy an outstanding view of Denver from its outdoor viewing platform.


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The green space grounds around the capitol extend to the City and County Building of Denver which is the white Neoclassical building directly opposite and together with the Denver Mint, Denver Public Library, Denver Art Museum and History Colorado Museum make up the Civic Center.

On the 15th stone step of the State Capital Building is an inscription noting it being exactly one mile above sea level although more recent and accurate measurements place the spot on the 13th and 18th steps where other markers have also been placed. Regardless of the exact elevation the view from these steps is worth pausing to admire.

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Visit Denver has produced an excellent online city guide that highlights all the capital offers including user-friendly downtown maps for types like me while prefer maps over apps.

With 300-days of sunshine every year and an extremely walkable city centre Denver it’s always a good time to visit but I like the outdoor living on those sultry Summer days so would suggest planning a trip between June and September.  With free tours and reasonable dining and entertainment costs exploring Denver’s downtown districts also won’t cost a mint (pun intended).

Mile-High Baseball at Coors Field, Denver

Coors Field Denver has become my new favorite major league baseball ballpark for its central location within walking distance to all of the Colorado capital’s central sights and its value ticket options.

Its brick facade lends a vintage feel to the ballpark allowing it to blend into downtown Denver’s historic warehouses creating a continuity rather than a contrast to the surrounding neighborhood. In fact, ballpark designers were so conscious of the impact on the nearby area that to prevent it from being imposing on nearby neighborhood buildings the field is 21 feet below street level.

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I turned up very early for the 6:40 PM game time to take in the ballpark and watch batting practice from behind home plate.

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In planning my Denver Summer weekend escape months in advance I checked the Colorado Rockies schedule and happily found the team on a four-game home stand against the Pittsburgh Pirates and in researching ticket options eventually settling on a ticket in the 2,300 seat bleacher section located behind the center field backdrop known as the ‘Rockpile’ for USD$11 including $5 processing fee. Spending a warm Summer evening watching the Rockies continue their fight for a playoff spot for less than the price of a movie is huge value and was hugely enjoyed even with a 45-minute rain delay in the seventh inning.

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The ‘Rockpile’ bench seats have no backs on them but as the ballpark wasn’t full there was plenty of space to spread out with popcorn, a hot dog and a beer or two.

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Check out the 360-degree view from the ‘Rockpile’ seats and walk through a video tour Coors Field.

Denver is known as the ‘Mile-High City’ and that elevation is marked by the purple coloured seats in the 20th row of the upper deck.

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Hitters have always loved the friendly confines of Coors Field as the higher elevation means a lower air density enabling the baseball to travel further resulting in more runs and home runs.

The Sandlot Brewery has been a staple of the ballpark since it opened and became the first brewery located within a major league ballpark.

Brewmasters at the Sandlot created a Belgian style witbier that they called Belly Slide Wit which became so popular it was re-branded as Blue Moon Belgian White and has gone on to win awards and become the most popular craft beer in the U.S. although the use of the term ‘craft beer’ has been disputed by some.

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The ‘Rooftop’ is a standing-room only section in upper right field that features craft beer, local food, spaces to socialize and take in incredible views of the game, city skyline and Rocky Mountains from a beer rail.  This casual corner of Coors Field was added for the 2014 baseball season and has proved hugely popular at recreating a neighborhood bar like many found nearby in Denver’s LoDo (Lower Downtown) district. The Rooftop is open to all ticket holders throughout the game.

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In the mid-90’s when sponsored stadium names was in its infancy, Coors scored a masterstroke by contributing $30 million to build the baseball-only stadium, $15 million of which was for the rights to put the brewery giant’s name on the ballpark “in perpetuity”. Consider that naming rights to Toronto’s Air Canada Centre was bought earlier this year by Scotiabank for $800 million, the Coors deal is the best in the pro sports business.

I’ve visited a few major league ballparks in recent years including most recently Citi Field in the New York borough of Queens which is home to the Mets but a 45-minute journey with transfer  from lower Manhattan so it was refreshing to be able to walk to Coors Field from the downtown core.

I highly recommend a visit to this ballpark as it offers value seats, a super central location, a quality Rockies team in the hunt for a post-season berth and plenty of places to explore before and during the three-hour average game.


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