Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

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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2018 Edmonton Airshow; The Sky’s The Limit

And when the smoke cleared there was an airshow.

The 2018 Edmonton Airshow took flight at the Villeneuve Airport 18 & 19th August after dense smoke from British Columbia forest fires that had blanketed the Edmonton area for days cleared  revealing brilliant blue skies and light winds, ideal conditions for high flying aerobatics displays.

Villeneuve Airport’s Runway 34 is 1000 meters long and I joined a steady trickle of airshow  attendees ambling down the tarmac,

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A number of civilian and military aircraft were on hand for visitors to walk through and one I toured is a United States Air Force (USAF) HC-130 J Hercules based at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Anchorage, Alaska. This latest variation of the venerable Hercules is deployed for border patrol and maritime reconnaissance and rescue.

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Flooded with light the Hercules cockpit is larger than the handful of civilian airliner cockpits I’ve visited over the years.  A crew of seven including two pilots flies this warbird.

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The RCAF was represented with its navy blue De Havilland Canada CT 142 Dash 8 , a military conversion of the popular twin turboprop Dash-8 civilian airliner that has carried countless millions of passengers since it introduction in the mid 1980’s.  The air frame looks like a regular Dash 8 but the bulbous nose seemed out of place until an RCAF officer on hand explained that was were the large radar system was housed.  This aircraft is flown by 402 “City of Winnipeg” squadron in an air navigation training role for both Canadian and Commonwealth flyers.

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A vivid orange and green paint scheme drew everyone to the vintage Canso PBY-5A  which rolled off the assembly line in 1943 as a patrol bomber during WWII before spending years in a civilian role as a water bomber. The Fairview Aircraft restoration Society (FARS) was founded to restore and preserve this flying piece of Canadian aviation history for future generations and there’s more on their mission on their website Save The Canso.

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Other aircraft on the ground available for a closer look were the Edmonton Police Service’s Air One, an  Airbus H-125  helicopter the service took delivery of in recent months, a CT-156 Harvard II trainer, and a CH-146 Griffon helicopter of the RCAF.

A food truck village is on hand to help the hungry and among the dozen vendors was Jackie O’s Sweet Treats whose mini donuts are as notable as the super clean lines and retro look of the food truck.

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After touring the aircraft on the ground it was time to watch the stars of the airshow, the aerobatic performers.

Gary Rower has logged more than 20,000 hours flying and rolled out his  vintage 1942 PT-17 Stearman biplane that began its life as a basic trainer for the U.S. Army Air Corps before undergoing a completed restoration in 1973.  The sound of the old radial engine taking off and going through its aerobatic routine was for me the highlight of the show.


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Buck Roetman’s purpose-built Christen Eagle aerobatic biplane seems half the size of the old Stearman and a very different engine sound.


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After flying separate routines the two biplanes combined for a duet at the end of the afternoon airshow and it was quite a sight with Roetman’s smaller and more nimble aircraft charting a different course but winding up in formation with Rower’s warbird. After the tandem ballet in the sky both biplanes taxied in and parked beneath the Villeneuve Airport control tower.

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A rare female aerobatic pilot Jacquie “B” Warda took to the skies with her 1986 Pitts Special named “The Red Eagle”.

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While part of a flying family Warda didn’t decide to become a pilot until age 32 and left a top job in the corporate world to become an aerobatic pilot at age 50.

Raised on a farm near Westlock Barry Pendrak took a spin in his home built Super Skybolt. Pendrak began his flying career as a B25 Mitchell water bomber pilot in northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

Closing the airshow the Lockheed T-33 “Acemaker” lifted off from Edmonton International Airport and did several passes at almost 600 miles per hour, close to triple the speed of some of the airshow aircraft.  The USAF’s first operational jet was piloted by Gregory “Wired” Colyer who had to slow his jet to “race” a Ferrari down the 1,500 meter main runway but even with a 200-MPH supercar it was no contest.

A key theme of the airshow was encouraging young flyers to pursue their flight dreams as virtually all of the pilots performing got hooked on flying at a very early age. Given the looming global shortage of pilots –almost 800,000 pilots are needed by 2037 to meet growing demand according to this article — the need for an increased number of recruits is more acute than ever so event organizers were reinforcing that message throughout the afternoon.

Airshow general admission was only $30 but for those wanting a more premium experience upgraded admission packages with exclusive parking and shaded lounges are also available for a premium price.

With near ideal weather and scores of eye candy for aviation buffs like myself I came away wondering why I hadn’t turned out for one of the previous Edmonton Airshows but resolved to not miss the next.

A Weekend Exploring Denver’s Craft Beer Scene

Having escaped for a weekend to the U.S. craft beer capital of Portland, Oregon months earlier I was curious to visit Denver to see how it compared and while it doesn’t boast the same number of craft breweries within its city limits as Portland the “Mile High City” still boasts an impressive array of microbreweries, taprooms, brewpubs and taverns to keep thirsty visitors and locals alike happy.

In fact, the Colorado capital is home to the so-called “Denver Beer Triangle” which runs between Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins housing over six dozen breweries which run the gamut from the giant Coors brewery in Golden – the world’s largest single-site brewery  – to renegade brewers working on specialty small batch craft beer.

One of the most decorated breweries in the U.S. Great Divide Brewing Company has been a staple of Denver’s beer scene for 20 years expanding in recent years to two locations: the original “Ballpark” brewery and taproom and a newer outlet in the RiNo (River North) neighborhood.

The original brewery and taproom in Denver’s LoDo (Lower Downtown) neighborhood is a short walk from Coors Field, home of MLB’s Colorado Rockies and what’s cool about this site is the  sturdy brick building and gleaming giant stainless steel tanks used to house a dairy processing plant but now brew memorable beers.

Great Divide offers free daily 30-minute tours of their Ballpark location on a first come, first served basis.

A different food truck is park outside around 3 PM every day offering an assortment of good pub grub from pizza to burgers and tacos. There’s a schedule of food trucks here but note it’s subject to change.

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For my visit to the taproom a few hours ahead of a Rockies game I opted for the Collette Farmhouse Ale which is brewed with barley, wheat and rice so is heartier and more complex than most wheat or Kolsh beers and at 7.3% alcohol by volume (ABV ) this beer is also a bit stronger.  Strong beers however aren’t unusual as Great Divide has become known for higher alcohol content beers over 7% including the Hercules Double IPA which at 10% ABV isn’t for the faint of heart.

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Steps from Union Station is Wynkoop Brewing Company, Colorado’s first brewpub co-founded in 1988 by former Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper who is now Colorado’s governor. Since its founding the area around Wynkoop has changed a great deal as the historic red brick warehouses that served Union Station in the 19th century have been preserved and restored to serve modern businesses.

The feeling of the original warehouse has been retained as the taproom has a grey pressed-tin ceiling, arched windows and hardwood floors.

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Wynkoop brews more than 40 beers so selecting just one isn’t easy but I opted for the Wixa Weiss Pale Wheat Ale which is an unfiltered Bavarian wheat ale style beer that’s much like others of this kind I’ve sampled except for the very subtle banana flavor.

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Literally around the block from Wynkoop Brewing is the smaller scale Falling Rock Tap House whose slogan is “No Crap On Tap” and backs that up with a staggering 91 beers on tap and another 300 in bottles, including what is likely the largest selection of Colorado-brewed beer under one roof in the world.

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Falling Rock’s extensive selection of Colorado craft beer is augmented by outstanding brands from around the U.S. and Europe.

This microbrewery has served as the unofficial headquarters for the Annual Great American Beer Festival held in Denver every Fall since 1997 and features an indoor/outdoor loading dock taproom has a very loyal following of regulars who appreciate the quality beers and founder Chris Black’s 2200 beer bottle collection that adorns almost every square inch of the wall above the bar.

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Black is very particular about not only the beer he brews but how it’s served.

An easy amble from Falling Rock  is Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery, an outdoor adventure themed brewery almost in the shadow of Coors Field as it’s located a scant 3-blocks from the ballpark.

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I tried the ‘Common Roots ‘which is another Belgian saison style beer but brewed with spruce tips and pink peppercorn adding  a hint of spice to what is a nice light summer beer.

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Open June through October is the Skyline Beer Garden which is a 40,000 square foot outdoor seasonal beer garden steps off Denver’s mile long pedestrian promenade 16th Street Mall complete with Oktoberfest-style picnic tables, ping pong tables, a 9-hole miniature golf course as well as live music on Fridays and Saturdays.

The beer garden focused on hand crafted Colorado brews so I sampled the Odell Brewing ’90 Shilling Ale’ which as the name implies is a British style amber ale. Being mid-day on a Sunday morning the venue was quieter than on a weekday when office workers fill it up for lunch and after work drinks and light bites.

Food trucks are on hand with street tacos but note that payment for both food and beer is by plastic only, no cash.

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Behind right field at Coors Field is the Blue Moon Brewing Company at the Sandlot which has unique set-up for a brewery since it’s founding in 1995 as it’s only accessible to ticket holders on game days during the major league baseball season. Originally called ‘Bellyslide Belgian White’ the Belgian-style witbier is often mistaken as an import beer but has always been owned and operated by Coors which has in recent years merged with Miller and Molson to form a giant international brewing conglomerate that’s at least part Canadian.

Blue Moon is an unfiltered Belgian-style wheat ale with deep flavor and a uniquely cloudy appearance and is served with a slice of orange to bring out the natural spices and subtle fruit flavor.

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I arrived early for the game to check out this and other ballpark attractions and grab a hot dog before game time.

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The beautifully restored century old historic landmark Union Station still serves as a Denver rail terminus but also houses boutique shops and the Crawford Hotel along with the Terminal Bar in what was the station’s ticketing office.

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The bar has a time capsule feel to it with the retro black & white tile floor tiles, wood chairs, and draft beers posted on faux trains destination boards above the bar.

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Rock Bottom Denver location on the 16th Street Mall is one of many in the brewpub chain however that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a generic, bland franchise outlet as all of its beer, some 40,000 barrels per year, is handcrafted on-site.

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I checked in at Rock Bottom around Noon the day I was catching a flight home and thanks to a weekday special caught a flight of beer as well. Here’s the before photo showing the variety of light ales, amber beers and darker porter beers.

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And the after photo.

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I liked everything on this flight except the sour ‘How Gose It’ beer. Gimme an IPA over a sour any day but it wasn’t so horrible I couldn’t drink all that came in the glass so take that for what it’s worth.

The last stop was unplanned but the neon sign at Lucky Pie Pizza & Tap House caught my eye as neon is sadly become more rare.

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A relatively new tavern – opened in 2014 – in a heritage building Lucky Pie offers a beer connoisseurs haven with some pizza pie on the side and after all what could be better than pizza & beer?

Denver tourism has produced a “Beer Trail” PDF which is here and it highlights many of the breweries I visited but I only scratched the surface of the many quality breweries in and around Denver so a return visit seems in order.

Hotel Review: AC Hotel Denver Downtown

The AC Hotel Denver Downtown is a smart, contemporary hotel that forms one half of the first dual-branded hotel that’s combined a Marriott hotel brand with a Starwood hotel brand to open since the two lodging companies’ mammoth merger in 2017.

Part of the 20 storey building operates as the AC Hotel Denver Downtown and the other as the Le Meridien Denver Downtown with each having their own lobbies, restaurants, and facilities. but there are some crossover points as this guest who took a wrong turn and wound up at the Le Meridien elevators discovered.  Both of these hotel brands are new to Denver and sport a sleek, modern European design as Le Meridien has its roots in France while Marriott’s AC Hotel brand started in Spain.

Guests flying into Denver International Airport have a few choices for transportation to the hotel but I found the best value to be hopping on the A Line train to Union Station as the 37-minute ride costs a mere USD$9 one-way per person. Tickets can be purchased at track side kiosks and trains depart every 15 minutes from 4:15 AM until 6:30 PM. There’s more on that rail ride in this video but once at the beautifully restored 1914 Beaux-Arts Union Station it’s a short walk to the 16th Street Free MallRide for the short ride on electric buses to 16th Street & California Avenue which is 2-blocks from the AC Hotel Denver Downtown. 

After a long day of travelling on planes & trains room 1213 is a welcome retreat with its floor-to-ceiling window and city skyline view. While rooms in this category average an cozy 237 sq. ft. the king bed isn’t oversize for the space.

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What makes this room different than most is the open concept with the bathroom integrated into the bedroom which for solo travelers is fine but may be a little awkward if sharing with someone you don’t know well.

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The toilet hides behind a sliding frosted glass door while the shower stall is wrapped in pristine white tile and features an excellent rainfall shower head and wand. Despite the ultra-modern room design I was a little surprised to see the eco-unfriendly small bottles of bath products from the Greek company KORRES instead of the wall mounted refillable dispensers that are becoming more the norm.

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I like the amount of counter space on the vanity for toiletries but would’ve liked a hook on the wall to hang a toiletries bag or face cloth.

The closet is also open to the room and is fine for a short summer stay for one traveler but with only four hangars wouldn’t work well in Winter for two guests with bulky outdoor clothes.

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The room lacks a mini-bar which would be useful especially on hot Summer days but does have a coffee/tea maker.  Note that ice for beverages is only found on the 2nd floor convention level so a bit of a trek from upper floor rooms.

The workspace was comfortable and equipped with enough power outlets for several electronic devices.

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While Marriott’s website lists the flat screen TV as 32-inch it’s actually more like a 55-inch model to my eye.

Bar AC is the hotel’s lobby bar and has a number of seating areas between the bar and the red felt pool table.

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Kitchen AC is adjacent to the lobby bar and features a European-inspired buffet breakfast with varieties of cheese, cold cuts, breads, eggs and cereals. Room rates do not include the buffet breakfast which is USD$15 per person, a not unreasonable amount for a hotel breakfast but I opted for the “Early Bird” special at Sam’s #3 retro diner 3 blocks from the hotel which goes for only $6.99 without coffee weekdays until 10 AM.

Denver’s highest seasonal outdoor rooftop lounge is 54Thirty and this 20th floor venue offers views of the Denver skyline and Rocky Mountains.

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The hotel’s central location is within a block of both the mile-long pedestrian promenade 16th Street Mall and giant Colorado Convention Center and offers easy access on foot to these and all other city center sights.

The AC Hotel Denver Downtown is a thoroughly modern hotel barely a year old that delivers a quality upscale stay in a great location but the room layout and modernity may not be to every travelers liking.  This isn’t however a trendy hotel so hip it’s uncomfortable so balances form with function and I enjoyed my 3-night stay.

CBC YEG Walk showcases the changing face of Edmonton’s city centre

While surfing the headlines on the CBC website recently I noticed a link to the Summer edition of the CBC YEG Walk, a monthly walking tour of the capital’s city centre hosted by a CBC personality so marked my calendar as I’m always willing to see Edmonton from a new perspective.

The walk began at CBC’s home in Edmonton City Centre Mall where I signed in, signed a release and collected some CBC swag; a drawstring tote, CBC logo pins and logo sunglasses.

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The tour leader is Mark Connolly, current host of Edmonton AM and a CBC Edmonton sports reporter for over 20 years and he started with an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at a live CBC Radio broadcast and a quick visit with Adrienne Pan who hosts CBC Edmonton’s afternoon drive show, Radio Active, after six years anchoring CBC Edmonton TV News.

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Mark mentioned he is the son of an Irish immigrant who founded his own cleaning company so not only is he a rare born & raised Edmontonian but in his teens he worked at CBC Edmonton as a janitor before deciding to give the broadcasting career a try.  A legion of viewers and listeners are grateful he didn’t stick with the family business as in his decades with CBC, Mark has covered seven Olympic games, numerous world championships, and the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

We moved across the street to Churchill Square, or officially Sir Winston Churchill Square, which as Mark explained has absolutely no connection to the iconic British Prime Minister beyond an admiring city council who voted to name the square in his honour after his death in 1965. A statue of the former PM adorns the western edge of the square.

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The square is empty as construction of Edmonton’s underground Light Rapid Transit (LRT) line and massive overhaul of the main branch of the Edmonton Public Library have pushed popular Summer events to alternate locations. Work on the both public projects is expected to be completed in 2020.

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Facing Churchill Square is the performing arts venue the Winspear Centre  and while I’ve walked through its doors many times to attend Edmonton Symphony Orchestra concerts but learned from Mark that the Tyndall limestone quarried in Manitoba is flecked with small prehistoric fossils if you look closely enough.

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Tyndall stone has been used in many notable Canadian landmarks including the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, The Saskatchewan and Manitoba Legislative Buildings and the Empress Hotel in Victoria.

A block north of the Winspear Centre is the Art Gallery of Alberta with its distinctive steel superstructure that undulates like a Prairie snowdrift.  Architect Randall Stout drew his inspiration from an aerial view of Edmonton’s regular grid road pattern and the irregular shape of the North Saskatchewan River that cuts through it.

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An outdoor patio offers an excellent vantage point over Churchill Square, City Hall and CBC studios.

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Another block north of the art gallery is the new home of the Royal Alberta Museum which opens its doors in Fall 2018.  The museum was built on the former site of the city’s main post office and one holdover from that building many locals might recognize is the large clock on one wall.

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Edmonton’s CN Tower actually predates the much more famous and slender structure in Toronto by a half decade and at its completion in 1971 was the tallest skyscraper in Western Canada at 26 storeys. I couldn’t resist using the tower’s familiar vertical pattern to contrast the vibrant floral mural crafted by noted local artist Giselle Denis whose 40 X 26 foot mural adorns the old Reuse Center building and was her gift to her the city where she was born and raised.

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A few blocks West from the CN Tower rises an even taller skyscraper that will regain the title of tallest building in Western Canada, the 66 storey Stantec Tower on the left which is joined by its Ice District neighbor the JW Marriott Tower which reaches 56 storeys.

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The JW Marriott Tower was officially topped off May 8, 2018 and is expected to open in early 2019.

The Edmonton Ice District is a $2.5 Billion dollar development sports and entertainment district anchored by Rogers Place, the 18,500 seat arena  which is the home of the Edmonton Oilers.

I’ve attended several concerts and NHL games since the facility opened its doors but with thousands of fellow Edmontonians making it hard to pause and notice all the designs incorporated into it including the 45-foot diameter circular mosaic set in the floor of Ford Hall by Alberta artist Alex Janvier.

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Iron Foot Place” seeks to depict Edmonton’s natural beauty piece and is made of nearly one million byzantine glass tiles which took 20 helpers six months to put together.

Right under Ford Hall at street level is a statue of a famous artist who made his mark in the sports world which greets visitors to the building. The statue of ‘The Great One’ Wayne Gretzky was originally installed outside the former hole to the Oilers, Rexall Place, before being moved to its current location.

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Adjacent to the statue is the Oilers Hall of Fame room, a celebration of  the 44-years of hockey history complete with five replica Stanley Cups, jerseys and all kinds of memorabilia from the Oilers’ dynasty years.

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The tour’s last stop directly across from Rogers Place is the Neon Sign Museum which is the first of its kind in Canada. The City of Edmonton has restored 20 neon signs that adorned Edmonton businesses for decades and mounted them on one side of the TELUS Building.

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Plaques on the wall tell the story of each sign and business. The neon gallery is best viewed after dark but is well worth visiting at any time of the day.

Opposite the Neon Sign Museum is the Mercer Warehouse which was built in 1911 and is one of the oldest buildings along 104 Street in what’s become known as the Warehouse District. The red brick Edwardian design of the warehouse and others like it nearby serve as a sharp contrast to the glass and steel skyscrapers a scant few blocks away. Like many Edmontonians I’m glad this history was preserved so the old wasn’t lost to make way for the new.

The warehouse is home to the fantastically funky Mercer Tavern, entrepreneur support agency Startup Edmonton, and the  Baijiu Bar, a Shanghai chic, Asian fusion restaurant where the tour ended with light bites and refreshments.

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The two-hour tour is aimed at visitors to Edmonton but everyone is welcome to join the monthly tours to learn more about the city centre. For upcoming tours watch for announcements on the CBC Edmonton webpage.

 

 

Aga Khan Garden at University of Alberta Botanic Garden opens to public

After nearly a decade of planning and 18 months of construction the Aga Khan Garden at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden in Devon, just outside Edmonton, opened to the public recently and as the garden is the northernmost of its kind in the world and only the second in North America I wanted explore this notable new local landmark on day-trip with family.

The 12-acre Mughal-inspired garden was made possible by a CAD$25-million gift from the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community, and according to a press release from the Aga Khan Development Network is meant to be “a space for connection, enjoyment, contemplation and education, where cultural understanding can flourish.”

Edmonton was chosen as the garden site despite our harsh winters because of both the city’s sizable Muslim community and its historical significance for having been home to Canada’s first mosque built in 1938 by early Arab Muslim immigrants. The site was announced in 2009 when the Aga Khan came to Edmonton to deliver the university’s commencement address.

The main entrance to the gardens is along a metal walkway through a Woodland Bagh.

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The first water feature is a black granite oval pool meant to reflect the surrounding woods and sky above.

Climbing a few steps visitors arrive at an upper terrace called a Talar, a Persian word for throne, with the fountain at its center representing the source of water for the garden.

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At the top of the Talar there are sweeping views over the Chahar Bagh or four-quadrant courtyard divided by walkways and reflecting pools. The Nahr or stream is meant to celebrate water in its different forms: falling, flowing, reflecting and creating sound.

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The lower terrace is decorated with splashes of colour as throughout the inaugural 2018 season gardeners will complete the planting of over 25,000 new perennials, trees, shrubs and wetland plants but a formal grand opening ceremony is being delayed a year to give the new plantings a chance to become established.

 

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Sprinkled around the garden perched among the fountains and green spaces are life-size bronze salamanders, frogs,  toads, walleye and lake trout which are all native to Alberta. There are 16 of these whimsical animals to be found and spotting as many as possible a good way to entertain the young and young-at-heart.

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Islamic decoration makes frequent use of geometric patterns which has developed over the centuries and are often built on repeating square or circles which when combined form high intricate and complex designs.

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The twenty stone columns each stand 18-feet tall and from a distance resemble Egyptian temples I’d seen during past travels. While most of the stone used in the garden was Canadian sourced the pillars are one exception as it’s a unique limestone imported from Portugal.

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The addition of the Aga Khan Garden is expected to more than double the number of annual visitors to the University of Alberta Botanic Garden from 75,000 to 160,000 and to handle the larger crowds upgrades have been made to the site’s parking lot along with a new entry plaza and other infrastructure improvements.

The new garden is is open to visitors daily from 29 June through 8 October 2018 and joins a network of 11 Islamic parks and gardens built or restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture around the world including Delhi, Cairo, Kabul and Toronto. For admission fees, hours of operations and tours consult the University of Alberta Botanic Garden website.

A Taste of Edmonton

In what’s become an annual Summer family tradition I joined my sister and nieces to take in the sights, sounds, smells and flavors of Western Canada’s largest food festival, Taste of Edmonton.

With dishes from 60 locally owned restaurants and food trucks and nightly entertainment at one of Canada’s largest free outdoor concert series, the festival is in its 34th year but in a new location at Capital Plaza on the Alberta Legislature grounds as it and The Works Art & Design Festival were evicted from their traditional venue on Churchill due to Light Rail Transit (LRT) construction.  The temporary move came with loads of logistical and regulatory adjustments including the removal of a prohibition against alcohol being sold on legislature grounds for the first time in  the province’s history.

Many of the beers on tap are Alberta brewed including local favorites from Alley Kat and Yellowhead Breweries.

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Event tickets are bought either with cash or credit/debit card at one of the ticket booths at entrance points into Capital Plaza and are $9 for 5 tickers, $17 for 10, $34 for 20 and $67 for 40. There is a Taste Menu here which lists each vendors specialties and amount of tickets required so it helps to scan the menu for not only items of interest but to figure out a rough cost. Given that many of the food items cost 4 tickets that’s around $7 for a small plate portion so sampling a few dishes and desserts saw this hungry visitor use up 20 tickets quite easily during a leisurely two-hour amble.

A new food favorite came from LOFT Thai Eatery whose marinated grilled chicken with LOFT peanut sauce was low on the spice meter but high on taste.

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My all-time top pick is Japanese Village’s sirloin beef on rice with sesame sauce and it didn’t disappoint again this year. The green onion cakes from Hong Kong Bakery are filling and one of the better values at only 3 tickets but beware their chili sauce which has a definite kick to it.

For desserts, the Sicilian Canolli from Italian Bakery Edmonton brought back many warm memories of diving into the delicacy in Italian enclaves in The Bronx, New York City.

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The Bix Mix Boys, billed as one of Canada’s hottest bluegrass bands, belted out the tunes during our visit but come evening headliners such as 80’s Canadian music icons Men Without Hats take to the stage.

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The weather cooperated for our visit with a sunny if not hot day but we exited just ahead of an afternoon  thundershower that darkened the skies. We’ll definitely be back for the 2019 version of the tasty festival but may arrive a little less hungry and buy fewer coupons as it’s not the culinary bargain it once was.

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From July 18-29, 2018 some 350,000 festival-goers are expected to attend Taste of Edmonton during its 12-day run.

Positively Portland

Portland, Oregon is known as The Rose City and it was in full bloom for my first visit to this progressive Pacific Northwest port named after Portland, Maine but having grown to almost 5-times the population of its namesake.

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Portland, Oregon is a city without centuries of history but what history it does have is very colourful as in the late 1880’s was considered one of the most dangerous ports in the world because of it’s illegal activities such as gambling rackets and prostitution as well as a thriving business in kidnapping unsuspecting citizens who were forced to labour as sailors, a term that came to be known as Shanghaiing.

By the early 20th century Portland shed its rough and tumble frontier town reputation and after a boom during WWII move in a progressive direction by the 1970’s to become today a leader in environmental consciousness because of its extensive public transportation network, large bicycling community and walkable city center.

My first visit coincided with the 111th edition of the Portland Rose Festival which included the Grand Floral Parade through the city center complete with floats and marching bands.

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As part of the Rose Festival warships are docked during Fleet Week encouraging visitors to tour the vessels and appreciate those who served in the forces.  I toured the USS Michael Murphy, a destroyer named for Medal of Honor recipient Michael P. Murphy who was killed in action in Afghanistan and was  the first U.S. Navy member to earn the award since the Vietnam War.

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We entered through the read deck which serves as a helicopter landing pad and toured forward to the gun deck which was festooned with communication flags.

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Also docked although not open to even this Canadian was Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Regina and coastal defense vessel HMCS Nanimo.

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The Portland Aerial Tram carries commuters between the city’s South Waterfront district and the main Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) campus and is only one of two commuter aerial tramways in the United States, the other being New York City’s Roosevelt Island Tramway. The tram travels a horizontal distance of 1,000 m and a vertical distance of 52 m in a ride that lasts only three minutes.

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The Lan Su Chinese Garden is a walled Chinese garden that takes up a square city block in the  Old Town/Chinatown section of the city and is modeled after famous classical garden in Suzhou, a twin city of Portland.

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While 90% of the plants featured in the garden are indigenous to China none could be imported due to import bans so what has been grown are those that could be found in gardens and nurseries around Oregon.

The Portland Saturday Market was founded in 1973 as a three-way beneficial deal as artists would have an economic outlet for their work, customers would gain better access to locally produced items, and the city would have a new attraction to draw customers into the downtown area. Since it’s creation 45 years ago the market, which has expanded to Sundays, has become the largest continuously operating open-air arts and crafts market in the United States.

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There are number of food vendors at the Saturday Market and enough places out of the rain with which to down the food truck cuisine. Given this is a beer city there are also licensed vendors including Rogue Ales & Spirits.

Keep Portland Weird” is a city slogan borrowed from Austin, Texas aimed at promoting individuality, expressionism, local art, as well as atypical lifestyle choices and leisure activities and that edgy and eccentric vibe is evident in events such the Saturday Market.

Portland is a perfect city for a weekend Summer escape and check out the city’s tourism events calendar for upcoming  festivals, activities and events.

 

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