Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Edmonton’s 124 Grand Market Opens for its Summer season

A staple of the West Edmonton Summer scene since 2012, the 124 Grand Market returned for  it’s 2019 season on 9th May, the warmest day of the year with the first Thursday Market and the lure of eclectic food truck cuisine and local vendors is enough for an early office exit.

Under sunny skies with the mercury peaking at 21 Celsius, Edmonton’s Public Market as it bills itself showcases quality, locally farmed and focused products and supports growing small businesses in and around Edmonton. 

One of those local vendors is farmer Brian Wilson of Dawn Agri. Ltd, a Camrose-area farm who sells his free range non-GMO, soy free pesticide free, and herbicide free fresh farm eggs.

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Brian, who is no relation to the Beach Boys founder of the same name although probably hears Pet Sounds on his farm,  explained that most chicken feed contains soy which is transferred to the eggs in concentrations of up to 5-percent, enough to affect those with soy sensitivities or allergies. As I am always eating eggs for breakfast, I picked up a dozen of the extra large brown eggs at a price not much more than the generic white eggs sold at the local supermarket.

A popular tent is Bent Stick Brewing, a local Edmonton nano-brewery with a dare to be different mantra and palpable passion for beer. Pick up a few of the 650-ml beer bottles of brew such as Four-Thirty PM Stout or my favorite the Wizard Device Belgium Amber. And yes, samples are available.

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Among the rotating line-up of food trucks is Little Village, the freewheeling Greek eatery (try  their lamb & potatoes covered with tzatziki) or Meat Street Pies which Specializes in baked-on-board their Partridge Family-like multi-coloured food truck ethnic pies, pasties and patties, gluten free & veggie options.

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Each week, a new crop of vendors (think food trucks, artisans, produce and prepared food) hits the market, so no two weeks will be the same.

Thursdays on 108 Avenue & 124 Street from 4:00 PM-8:00 PM. Enjoy live music, performances, food trucks, local growers, bakers, makers, and kids programming including a Little Beans Program for the young ones.

The 2019 Season will run outdoors from May 9 to the Harvest Thanksgiving Market October 10.

Thursday Market
Thursdays from May 9 – October 10, 2019
4:00 PM – 8:00 PM
108 Avenue & 124 Street

Sunday Market
Sundays from June 2 – September 29
11:00 AM – 3:00 PM
102 Avenue & 124 Street

Resort Review: Riu Palace Mexico – Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

Located in the upscale gated residential, resort and luxury golf club community of Playacar 3 kilometers south of Playa Del Carmen, Mexico the  434-room Riu Palace Mexico will delight beach lovers with its stunning stretch of sand while its extensive all-inclusive amenities are outstanding if not quite palatial.

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My first impression of the family-friendly Riu Palace Mexico is one of loud Las Vegas-like luxury with a soaring lobby adorned with acres of marble and a purple design theme that runs throughout the resort following an extensive 2012 renovation. Garish may not be the right word and too harsh a critique but ‘understated elegance’ isn’t how I’d describe the Riu Palace Mexico.

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A welcome drink at check-in is always a nice touch but less so is having to wear a plastic wristband for the duration of the stay as this is becoming increasingly rare at luxury all-inclusive resorts.

The assigned room 2134 is a second floor Junior Suite at the end of the accommodation building nearest the beach and features two double beds and a lower level loveseat and desk with handy outlet to use or recharge devices. The complimentary Wi-Fi for up to 4 devices with the username and password  included in the welcome packet given to guests upon check-in.

A light cotton sheet was all that the firm but comfortable beds are fitted with but unless you set the air conditioning to deep freeze level it should be all that’s needed.  A ceiling fan is a good alternative to cool the space enough without cranking up the AC.

I did appreciate the heavy drapes blocked out more Mexican sunlight  than I expected allowing this light sensitive sleeper to sleep in past dawn as is rarely the case at most tropical hotels & resorts.

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The open concept bathroom with a jetted tub may in the middle of the room not be to everyone’s liking however the vanity with dual sinks did come in handy. The toilet is hidden in a small water closet behind a white door and while not roomy serves its purpose.

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The large shower stall with shower wand and rainfall shower head is behind a frosted glass door and purple glass tiles but has only one small light so I found it on the dark side in the morning with the drapes pulled.

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There is a wall-mounted multipurpose body wash and shampoo but extra lotion, shampoo and conditioner on the vanity.

One brand trademark of Riu resorts is what I call the “medicine cabinet”, a wall-mounted liquor dispenser just above the coffeemaker and mini-bar stocked daily with cans of beer and soda.

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The view from the smallish balcony with two plastic chairs of the central courtyard with reflecting pools and fountains is good but because there is a set back of the accommodation from the swimming pools and beach the resort doesn’t have ocean view rooms or suites.

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The room does offer a large laptop friendly wall safe in the closet and plenty of hangars and drawers to hold all my tropical beach and resort wear.

A big screen TV has dozens of channels and even some in English but it was barely on the whole four night stay as there are more than enough activities and evening entertainment around the grounds to keep me occupied.

There are some room quirks I found such as an array of light switches everywhere but it’s comfortable and user-friendly enough to serve as a good base. Hallways in the block-long accommodation buildings do amplify sounds but an absence of loud late night revelers made for very good sleep quality.

The biggest deciding factor about the room is its modern open concept so for those wanting an enclosed bathroom and a more traditional design the Riu Palace Riviera Maya is a few hundred meters down the beach .

Playacar Beach is miles long and deep with a gorgeous grove of towering palm trees and plenty of shady lounge chairs for everyone.

photo by author

photo by author

This was my favorite spot between the resort pools and the waters edge as it was an uncrowded and quiet oasis visiting only occasionally by waiters taking drink orders and the odd brown agouti, a large but timid rodent relative of the guinea pig found throughout Central and  South America.

photo by author

photo by author

The Sargassum seaweed that has fouled Caribbean beaches in recent years has washed up in the Playacar beaches making swimming in the sea impractical for all but an intrepid few. The ankle deep brown plants are removed by resort staff daily by hand and skid-steer loader but there’s only so much that can be done to keep up with the volume that washes up all along the Riviera Maya.

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The Riu Palace Mexico’s pools are clustered just off the beach with two pools, one adult only and the other family friendly, flanking a central pool with a swim-up bar that comes complete with tiled lounge chairs, stools and a  long pool table.

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photo by author

I noticed an innovative sun shade design in the metal trellises around the main pools with a screen that could be opened or closed like a window blind to allow or block the sun from guests occupying the loungers.


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It wasn’t too hard to find a spot by the pools or beach although inevitably there were the early risers who reserved their spots early in the morning.

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One disappointment for me was the lack of a quiet adult pool as a DJ stand was set up between the two main pools at the El Palmeral swim-up pool bar with the tunes going throughout the day but for those who like lots of pool games and music this active environment would be to their liking.

A central plaza served as the evening entertainment zone with a variety of local and imported bands entertaining the assembled guests. One Cubano band was a particular favorite.

 

Some resorts I’ve stayed at leave printed daily activities calendar in each guest room however the Riu has several touch screen information kiosks in the main building and lobby.

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The main buffet restaurant Don Julian is open for breakfast 7 – 11 AM and for supper 6:30 – 10 PM.  I liked that diners could choose between an indoor and covered outdoor patio section.

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The beef tenderloin I had at the fusion restaurant Krystal Restaurant was among the best main courses I’ve had at an all-inclusive but the same can’t be said however about the chocolate  dessert calzone on another night at the Italian La Dolce Vita Restaurant as the dough was too  thick to consume with a fork. Maybe I should’ve opted for the more traditional tiramisu.


photo by author

photo by author

The steak at the beachfront Steak House Guacamole was tasty but a little overdone (more well done than the medium I’d ordered) while I ran out of time to try the Japanese Miyagi and Mexican La Bodega specialty restaurants.

The family-friendly Riu Palace Mexico does offer a supervised kids activity play place called Riu Land which comes complete with outdoor kiddie pool and indoor kid’s club.

photo by author

photo by author

Guests of the two palace resorts in theory have access to the facilities at the five others adjacent or nearby Riu resorts however upon check-in the Hotel Riu Lupita was crossed off the resort map (see the resort complex map here) and was advised that we needed to stay within our own resort for specialty restaurant and morning buffet breakfast dining.

I visited the adjacent Hotel Riu Yucatan which was hotel chain’s first property in Mexico when it opened in 1997 and underwent its own renovation in 2013 and found the main pools near the beach quite crowded but there is an uncrowded quiet pool just off the resort’s main lobby. The resort has a number of individual walk-up villas instead of the large “U” shaped main building and accommodation wings as at the Palace resorts. The inter-resort exchange privileges are a perk better utilized on longer stays.

My stay at the Riu Palace Mexico was very enjoyable as I was able to find a quiet beach lounge chair in which to devour a few paperback books and while away the first few days doing almost nothing. I’d rate this as a solid four plus star all-inclusive resort but it just doesn’t compare to the true five-star resorts that aren’t far away within the Riviera Maya corridor.

Find a Riu Palace Mexico resort map here.

Pros

  • Miles of glorious white sand beach
  • Four swimming pools including one for adults only with swim-up bar
  • Kids’ club, playground, and swimming pool
  • Renovated rooms have liquor dispensers and jetted tubs
  • One buffet and five specialty restaurants and seven lounges and bars
  • Exchange privileges with other neighboring Riu resorts
  • 24-hour all-inclusive plan
  • Live entertainment in a central courtyard
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the resort

Cons

  • Lack of a quiet adult pool
  • Bathrooms with a modern open concept may not be to all guests liking
  • Seaweed on the beach
  • Plastic wristbands
  • Big rooms, small balconies

 

 

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Ek’ Balam ruins and cenote swim day-trip from Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

An adventure appetizer with a Mayan culture main course jumped out at me from the day-tour menu while researching options during an all-inclusive resort holiday in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico and this moveable feast of a fun-filled day was the highlight of the trip!

Friends recommended I bypass the crush of the crowds at the Chichen Itza Mayan ruins and head instead to Ek’ Balam, a Mayan city that hits its zenith long before its more famous neighbor and the advice was on the money with the bonus being a second stop for a swim in the cool, crystal clear waters of the largest cenotes in the Yucatan.

The USD$120 advertised tour price on Cancun Vacations Experts is more than I expected to pay but as it includes resort pick-up and drop-off and a buffet lunch along with park entrance fees I confirmed a reservation for a friend and I but had two surprises come the tour date and time. Despite booking with Cancun Vacation Experts an Alltournative tour bus  came to collect us at the appointed hour and the tour leader Irvin also advised that his company was the tour provider regardless of who the tour was booked through. He also said that the itinerary as shown online with the Ek’ Balam visit in the morning followed by the Cenote Maya Native Park stop in the early afternoon was being reversed for tour company logistical reasons. A few passengers myself included wondered aloud about the change of plans which meant a morning swim and walk through the ruins in the heat of the afternoon but thanks to a partly cloudy day the concerns proved unfounded.

Cenote Maya Native Park is a two-hour, 170 kilometer journey due east of Playa Del Carmen near the town of Valladolid and a warm welcome from a Mayan shaman awaited us when we entered the jungle. As cenotes are considered scared places in popular Mayan culture, the shaman’s blessing ceremony gives permission for guests to enter and wishes them Malo Kin, or ‘good day’ in the Mayan language.

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The park star attraction is the Ik Kil Cenote which is the largest in the Yucatan and arguably one of the most beautiful cenote in Mexico measuring 60 meters in diameter with a water depth of  40 meters.  The stories of human sacrifice to the rain god who filled the sacred cenote ran through my head as I geared up to rappel the 26 meters from the rim to the cool waters below.

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The rappel was an adrenaline-pumping way to reach water level and I was happy to overcome my fear of heights however for those unwilling or unable to make this kind of entrance there’s a wooden staircase available.

The cenote is almost completely shaded from the Mayan sun and so the waters are cool and clear having been filtered through layers of limestone. The green tint makes for a magical feel of this cathedral sized cave.

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There are a number of diving platforms within the cenote as well as  a short zip-line.

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After playing in the water, a traditional Mayan lunch complete with handmade tortillas awaits visitors.

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photo by author

The sturdy lunch after a morning of activities was enjoyed, especially the chicken and orange coloured honey potatoes.

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The meal excludes beer which is available for USD$5 and despite the premium price I felt a small reward was in order so enjoyed a cold bottle of the local Cerveza Montejo.

Park photographers snap your picture a number of times during your visit which are available for sale but at USD$16 for one souvenir action shot and $50 for a DVD with up to a dozen photos was too pricey for my liking and passed. I wore a GoPro HERO5 Session camera mounted on a head strap as only actions cams with either head or chest mounts are permitted in the cenote.

An hour drive away are the Mayan ruins of Ek’ Balam, a Mayan city dating as far back as 100 BC but  whose zenith was reached between 700-1,200 BC. Ek ‘ Balam, Mayan for ‘black jaguar’, is comprised of 45 structures which were lost to the jungle until the late 1800’s when rediscovered by French explorer and archaeologist Désiré Charnay but not fully excavated until a century later.

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The Alltournative guides explained that the dominant structures in all Mayan cities are mistakenly called pyramids but as they lack a triangular shape that converges into a single peak should instead be referred to as temples.

Structure 1 or the Acropolis stands 32 meters high and its top level may be reached by climbing 106 steep stone steps making it unique as most other prominent Mayan sites in the Yucatan including Chichen Itza may no longer be climbed.

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The climb to the summit of the temple affords a memorable view over the tree tops of the Mayan jungle and an excellent view of the site below.

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On a clear day the tops of the temples of Coba and Chichen Itza can be seen in the distance but I failed to spot them as the clouds covered the horizon.

The temple, which was an earthen mound until excavations began in 1998, is believed to  contain the tomb of Ukit Kan Leʼk Tokʼ, an important Mayan ruler, and about halfway up the structure – a welcome spot to catch your breath during the climb – the intricate carving that adorns the tomb facade can be seen. The main tomb entrance is carved to resemble the mouth of a jaguar reminding all of the ruler’s power.

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There’s a good view of the temple from the Oval Palace near the Entrance Arch to the site.

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The 2-hour visit to Ek’ Balam includes a guided visit and free time and was enough to take it all in and not feel rushed. While an estimated 2.1 million people visited Chichen Itza in 2017 by comparison a tiny fraction of that number experience Ek’ Balam annually and during my visit an inexact head count found no more than 40 visitors and guides. For those history and culture buffs wanting to walk and climb ancient Mayan ruins while avoiding the crowds at other sites I’d highly recommend visiting Ek’ Balam.

Alltournative tour leader Irvin talks a little about what makes this day tour unlike others.

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Irvin provided an excellent introduction into the Mayan culture and  I appreciated his approachable and personable tour leader style as it made it seem that our small group of eight  was travelling with him rather than his simply being our driver/guide. His choice of classic 80’s and 90’s tunes during the longer drives between Playa Del Carmen and the Yucatan sites was music to my old ears and is another reason why I enjoyed the day tour so much. The combination of the active adventure at the cenote and history lesson at Ek’ Balam was a perfect balance so would highly recommend Alltournative for this an other Yucatan tours.

Midnight Market at Edmonton’s Polar Park Brewing Company

The opportunity to sample the beer Edmonton’s soon-to-be newest microbrewery while supporting local artists proved too much for me to resist so I snapped up a ticket to the Polar Park Brewing Company Midnight Market held at their off-Whyte Avenue headquarters.

The Bee-Bell Bakery was an Edmonton institution for 50-years until its 2013 closure but after a spell of idleness the building has been converted into a brewery which opens to the public in May and there could hardly be a better facility for a microbrewery with the sturdy red brick building’s second floor outdoor patio offering thirsty patrons a lofty locale to soak up Summer a few blocks south of the popular Whyte Avenue, an epicenter of many festivals, most notably the Edmonton International Fringe Festival which is the oldest and largest fringe theatre festival in North America.

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If the Polar Park name sounds somewhat familiar to those of a certain vintage it’s because the name was used by Al Oeming when he relaunched his Alberta Game Farm which he operated in the Edmonton area for four decades until its 1999 closure. At it’s height the park was the largest private game park in North America housing more than 3,000 animals and 166 species.  There’s more about the Brewery’s name and family heritage from Al Oeming’s grandson and brewery co-founder Robert Oeming in this video.  The  brewery pays homage to it family history on its website using the slogan “From Bears to Beers”.

On tap for Eventbrite ticket holders for this exclusive seek peek is an IPA brewed off-site at the nearby Situation Brewing and speaks to the collaborative spirit of the burgeoning  Alberta craft beer scene. While I normally avoid IPA’s as most are uber-hoppy this brew didn’t assault my taste buds and went down well while waltzing around the dozen local vendors on hand selling their wares which ranged from designer cakes and cupcakes to  perogies.

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One artist demonstrating her time-honoured traditional wood block print making is printmaker Zhuyin Sarah Zhao who described the painstaking process to carve out of the intricate design which is pressed onto rice paper as shown in this video.

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The first of 16 limited edition 8″ x 10″ prints I purchased will be framed and mounted in my home as a thing of beauty for myself and guests to admire and remind me of my travels in Asia.

The Friday night event served to whet my appetite for the official opening of Polar Park Brewing as the sneak peek reinforced the local roots the company has set down which bodes well for its long-term outlook.

Hearty Edmontonians Gather to Celebrate Lunar New Year Celebrations

An arctic air mass that had parked itself over much of Western Canada couldn’t keep a small band of spectators away from the annual lunar new year celebrations held in Edmonton’s so called Chinatown North, the area north of the traditional Chinatown around Jasper Avenue and 97th Street that grew with waves of Chinese and Asian immigrants in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s.

With day time temperatures hovering in the low -30’s Celsius with windchill, the outdoor celebrations went in a decidedly different direction with civic dignitaries, performers and spectators alike all huddled in the Pacific Rim Mall until showtime. A delicious detour while awaiting the festivities proved to be the Dynasty Century Palace restaurant, well known for its Dim Sum.

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This lunar new year is the 4716th Chinese year and is the Year of the Pig, the twelfth of the 12-year cycle of animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar.  While the pig isn’t thought to be a smart but lazy animal in China on the positive side, it behaves itself, harms no others, and can bring affluence to people and so the year is regarded as bringing wealth.

The dragon dance is most often performed at new year’s as dragons are seen to bring good luck to people and that the longer the dragon in the dance the more luck it will bring to the whole community.


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The lion dance is another traditional Chinese dance performed major holidays such as the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) for good luck, as it is believed that the lion is an auspicious animal. Members of Edmonton’s Canadian Ging Wu Kung Fu Martial Arts Association performed the lion dance.

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Lighting firecrackers is another major custom as it’s said to scare off evil spirits and celebrate the coming of the New Year. I braved the wicked wind get up close to the hanging strands of firecrackers, a little too close as flying debris came my way but luckily caused no lasting damage.

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To many an Occidental eye the annual celebrations may seem exclusively Chinese however the lunar new year holiday is observed throughout Asia as its known as Eumnyeok Seollal in Korea and Tet Nguyen Dan, or simply Tet and other events to mark the special occasion were held around Edmonton. I promised to attend more events marking this Oriental occasion next year on the condition the weather gods favored Edmonton with warmer weather.

 

Lost luggage: what happens to your baggage after check-in

While it’s been years since I checked a piece of baggage on any of my trips every year millions of travellers still pay for the service and every year millions of bags go missing but how they are handled or mishandled is not something passengers normally see.

It’s worth noting that airline information company SITA says in it’s annual Baggage Report  that of the 4.65 billion bags checked on all world airlines only 6 bags per 1,000 are mishandled and of this number over 99-percent is returned within 48-hours with the remainder unable to be reunited with their owners who are due compensation from the airlines as prescribed in the Montreal Convention, a 1999 multinational civil aviation treaty.

Thanks to advancements in technology passengers are 70-percent less likely to lose their bag than was the case a decade ago and it’s this new technology that lead the International Air Transport Association (IATA)  to adopt Resolution 753 which mandates airlines track bags at four key points in its journey.

For a behind-the-scenes journey of checked bags Global News has an excellent in-depth look in this video.

A short walk to The End of the World

Edmonton’s scenic river valley has a number of panoramic view points, some official and others not so I was interested to learn that one popular perch that was in the latter category joined the former.

‘The End of the World’ is the informal name given to a look-out high above the North Saskatchewan River steps from the tony Saskatchewan Drive in Edmonton’s upscale Belgravia neighborhood that became a notorious hang-out and party place for those wanting to soak in the sweeping views of the city’s west end from a crumbling concrete retaining wall of the decommissioned Keillor Road that served as an unofficial  observation deck.

Despite ‘No Trespassing’ signs locals made their way to the point leaving their litter in the process which together with the safety aspect of potential falls from the steep cliff without railings and an unstable slope prompted city officials to close access and undertake a $1.5-million dollar project to both make the point safe for visitors while increasing accessibility from Saskatchewan Drive.

City of Edmonton artist rendering

Renamed Keillor Point in honour of Dr. Frederick Keillor, a medical doctor and World War I veteran who became an Edmonton city councillor, the new and improved scenic view point features both gravel trail and staircase access and a metal viewing platform.

When they initially conceived the project the city acknowledged that the riverbank is still moving but will monitor the motion and close the site should it be felt to be unsafe.

photo by author

photo by author

Even a cool breeze on a December day couldn’t take away from the majesty of the view which is one I hope other Edmontonians and visitors can experience for themselves.

New screening system speeds up security process at Edmonton International Airport

I’ll confess to not being the most patience of people when it comes to line-ups of any kind whether it be at the supermarket or airport security so it was with interest that I read about the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) unveiling its new carry-on baggage security screening system at the Edmonton International Airport.

The authority has installed the CATSA Plus conveyor system in two of the airport’s eight security lineups but over the next few months all eight queues will switch over to the new system which is designed to make the process more efficient and user-friendly for both travellers in a hurry and those who need more time

The new setup automatically feeds baggage bins into four stations where four travellers can unload their liquids and laptops at the same time and when ready push their loaded bins onto a conveyor belt for a scan in the X-ray machine.

After travellers pass through the metal detector, they can watch their belongings be sorted into two lines — cleared to fly or needing more scrutiny.

Current CATSA screening time for Edmonton International Airport can be checked online before leaving home.

The improvements in the airport security screening process are welcomed by this passenger as having practiced the routine over dozens of flights there was some annoyance being stuck behind less experienced and prepared travellers who prolonged the security screening process. Now if only the supermarket line-ups could be shortened…

 

Christmas comes to Edmonton’s Little Italy

As if part of a master plan a heavy blanket of snow was part of the scenery for the kick-off of Edmonton’s “Winter in Little Italy” celebration in this colourful north side community. The 30 centimeters of snow that fell over the weekend was likely more than event organizers had expected but added an authentic touch to the festivities.

The Little Italy area extends from 107 Avenue in the South to 118 Avenue in the North, and between 97 and 93 Streets and traces its Italian roots trace back to an immigrant influx between the end of World War II and the 1970’s but it was the 1958 opening of Santa Maria Goretti Church that really solidified the enclave as Italian. A street arch welcomes visitors with ‘benvenuti‘ on one side and wishes them goodbye with ‘ciao‘ on the other.

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At Little Italy’s modern heart is a number of family-owned businesses including the Italian Bakery and the Italian Centre Shop where fresh pasta, prosciutto and deli meats are served in the largest deli in Western Canada.

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The competing aromas from the bakery, cafe and deli make this a wonderful place to linger and soak up the sights, sounds and smells especially on a cool Winter afternoon.

Just outside the store chestnuts roasting on an open fire had me humming the lyrics to this familiar holiday song.

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Just across from the Italian Centre Shop is a seated life-size bronze statue of its founder Frank Spinelli who emigrated from a small town near near Salerno, Italy in 1951 eventually settling down in Edmonton to open a store in 1959 offering authentic Italian goods to other recent arrivals to Canada.  Over the decades until his passing in 2000 due to cancer Spinelli grew to become a pillar of both the Italian community and the city of Edmonton and was posthumously elected to the Alberta Business Hall of Fame in 2013. The snow obscures his hands which hold cards as he’s depicted playing his favourite card game Scopa, one of two major national card games in Italy.

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The Spinelli statue sits in Giovanni Caboto Park named for the Italian-born explorer and navigator that settled in England and we know by his anglicized name John Cabot whose second voyage in 1497 made him the first European to explore the coast of Newfoundland since the Vikings some 500 years prior.

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The park was originally called Patricia Square Park named for Princess Patricia, the daughter of Canada’s Governor General, Prince Albert, the Duke of Connaught, and patron of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry but in 1981 the local Italian community requested a change in the name to better represent its neighbourhood and culture.

Horse drawn sleigh rides took visitors along Church Street, a stretch of 96th Street that’s home to a dozen different churches, cathedrals and temples. The City of Edmonton in 2017 took the first step toward establishing this area as a historical and cultural destination by preserving current buildings through restrictive zoning bylaws.

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Edmonton’s Little Italy is worth visiting year ’round however it’s especially festive ahead of Christmas so well worth an afternoon detour and evening meal. My visit proved to be a timely antidote to the bland big box stores and generic shopping malls that occupy so much retail space in the city and it was refreshing to stroll the street sampling the goods at a number of family owned and operated businesses and feeling the sense of community that still exists in this corner of the capital.

A Craft Beer Amsterdam Amble

With a range between innovative and edgy young local breweries to more established historic tasting houses and well-stocked beer tap rooms, Amsterdam’s craft and specialty beer scene is vibrant and strong. I visited five notable haunts from Amsterdam’s heady beer scene drinking it all in.

Brouwerij ‘t IJ

Brewing some of Amsterdam’s best-loved craft beers since 1985 in a formerly vacant municipal bath house next to the city’s largest wooden windmill is Brouwerij ‘t IJ,  founded by local musician Kasper Peterson who was looking to grow his experimental home brewing into a commercial enterprise by producing Belgian style beers that weren’t being brewed at the time in Amsterdam.

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The old municipal bath house proved a perfect place for a brewery since it had a water supply and drainage system, easy-to-keep-clean tiles and steam generator. Some of the original physical features of the building remain including separate entrances for men and women.

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After more than twenty years into Brouwerij ‘t history Peterson stepped back and Bart Obertop and Patrick Hendrikse took over and continue brewing the distinctive kind of quality beers ‘t IJ has become known for.

Since demand far exceeded supply a new brewery was opened near the original location in 2013. Public tours are offered regularly at the original brewery and at EUR 6 with a free beer won’t soak beer enthusiasts but note only twenty spots are available for each tour and are only sold at the brewery the day of the tour and no advance reservations are accepted.

I tried the Amarillo Red IPA which is less hoppy to me than most IPA’s so is an easy drinking beer which is available only at the brewery. The name is taken from the Amarillo hop and not the city in Texas.

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There’s more about the brewery and its history in this video but a quick look at all of Brouwerij ‘t  beers posing around Amsterdam.

Brouwerij de Prael

The Brouwerij de Prael is tucked away on a narrow side street in the Oudezijds (Old Side) neighborhood of Amsterdam which is one of the oldest parts of the city known for its famous or infamous Red Light District. The current notoriety of the area notwithstanding the brewery is sighted on a canal that as early as 1300 was a beer quay where beer was imported from Germany on wooden ships before later being the site of Amsterdam’s first breweries.

The brewpub, which is off an alley and not too easy to find, welcomes thirsty patrons with a street level bar as well as an upper seating level with a funky assortment of wooden tables, chairs and modern chic industrial lamps.

Around the corner from the brewpub is the brewery itself and tours are offered frequently seven days a week. I joined a Friday afternoon tour with friends opting for the admission with one beer for EUR 8.50 through the online reservation site.

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Brouwerij de Prael was founded in 2002 and of its beers are brewed on site only using organic ingredients.

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In keeping with the handmade and authentic ethos the beers are all brewed, bottled, and labeled by hand on-site.

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After a few pints before and after the tour my favorite beer is the Weizen, a light and fruity German-style Hefeweizen beer  as I prefer the Weizen and Kolsch beers to IPA.

Proeflokaal Arendsnest

The Dutch word proeflokaal translates as ‘tasting room’ and with 50 craft beers on tap there are no other Amsterdam ale houses that own the word like Arendsnest. Located on the grand Herengracht canal a short walk from Centraal Station, Proeflokaal Arendsnest has rustic copper pipes, mahogany walls, and bartenders sharply dressed in waistcoats. An extensive list of craft beers greets visitors and after a long while trying to decide I chose Dutch Eagle Pale Ale, a light, fruity beer that went well with the warmer end-of-Summer evening. Note that the lower prices on the board are for smaller 220 ml glasses which are a good way to sample a variety of beers without investing in a whole pint of each.

photo by author

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Beer Temple

The owner of Proeflokaal Arendsnest, Peter van der Arend,  opened the BeerTemple in 2009 and this hole-in-the-wall steps from Dam Square specializes in American craft beer with some 35 beers on tap and another 200 in cans and bottles.

 

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Unlike the bright & pristine  Brouwerij ‘t, the Beer Temple is a little rough around the edges with a narrow, dark interior and stickers covering the walls but its the location and beers that keep the masses returning.

Beer tastings are held every Sat.  at 12:30 PM and the day-long tour More Beer Tour combines the Beer Temple with affiliated watering holes Proeflokaal Arendsnest, Craft & Draft, and ‘Cause Beer Loves Food for a movable feast of craft beer.

Cafe ‘De Laurierboom’

History is around every corner in Amsterdam quote literally as I found while wandering the Jordaan district and happening upon Cafe ‘De Laurierboom’, a local pub for the past 150 years. It wasn’t the history however but rather the sidewalk seats that drew me in so I ordered a pint and plopped down to watch the neighborhood glide by.

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With locals far outnumbering tourists De Laurierboom is one of the last real ‘brown’ cafes, local watering holes with dark wood and smoke-stained walls. 

I ran out of time to visit all the exceptional brewpubs, tasting rooms and breweries in Amsterdam so will plan a return trip to visit those I was unable to sample this time around. Any reason to return to my beloved Amsterdam…

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