Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Calgary Life & Home Again, Home Again Jiggedy Jig

After the craziness of the Stampede week, we stayed an extra five days in Calgary.  As a Calgarian said to us, "You need to see that we don't always dress like cheap imitations of rodeo cowboys."  But our real reason was simpler:  BIKE TRAILS!

Calgary is crazy with bike trails.  Everywhere.  Hundreds of miles of bike trails!  You can literally ride for five or six hours through the heart of the city, without having to stop for a car or a traffic light the entire time.  Who could resist?

In the late '60s, Calgarians began envisioning a system of connected pathways to travel through the city and access the many, many areas of natural beauty in Calgary.

Indeed, many of the trails are through parks and along waterways.  The bike-path-starved Phoenicians in us were drooling with envy!

You don't even have to haul your bike somewhere to get it repaired.  Just pull into one of the mobile repair shops in the middle of many downtown Calgary parks.

Calgary has 1.1 million people and a vibrant, urban scene.  Also, REALLY REALLY good mass-transit that can get you anywhere you want to go quickly, safely and cheaply.  Even during the Stampede, we never had to wait for a train.

We were shocked at the amount of construction going on in Calgary, this despite Alberta's economy being in a recession.  Many formerly sketchy neighborhoods like the East Village are being reclaimed and turned into trendy destinations, like this refurbished Simmons mattress factory, which now houses an outstanding Argentinian restaurant, along with a coffee shop and a bakery.

Part of our Calgary time was spent residing at McMahon Stadium, home of the Calgary Stampeders football team (one of only 9 total, vs. USA NFL's 32), as part of an organized "RV Rally" with 120 other RV'ers. It was interesting because the players (who do not have celebrity hero status like NFL players do) would wander right by our RV on their way into the stadium to practice.  Don't tell the Cardinals that Philip was cheating on them!

We didn't touch even a fraction of the things to do in Calgary (partially because we were so tired from the Stampede week, partially because BIKE TRAILS) but did love these things as well .....

THE CALGARY SKY TOWER & GLASS BRIDGE gave amazing 360 views of the City and the Stampede grounds above, and the streets and cars below.

THE CALGARY GLENBOW MUSEUM had great displays on the history of Calgary, but what we liked best was a multi-scene display called "Kaleidoscopic Amimalia" by fashion designer Paul Hardy that combined fashion with flights of fancy, all related to animals.

THE CALGARY HERITAGE PARK is a 120-acre "living history museum" with lots of authentic buildings, painstaking re-creations of Canada's past, and actors roaming around bringing it all to life.

They also had an excellent, spotless display of hundreds of vintage autos in "Gasoline Alley."

THE CALGARY FARMERS MARKET was 85,000 indoor square feet, which led us to question why we don't have such a thing year-round in Phoenix?!  Wouldn't that make sense? #thingsthatmakeyouwonder

As we pulled away from Calgary, thousands of acres of bright-bright yellow canola fields lined the highways, and we realized we had never stopped to consider where canola oil came from.  Now you know!

We crossed the border (uneventfully, again, despite my fears of being thrown in forbidden-produce jail, again) and felt our hearts swell.  A Veterans' Memorial just across the border in Shelby, Montana, immediately reminded us that there really is no place like the USA!


But we gotta give a hearty salute to our Northern Neighbors.  Their country is extraordinary and the people are exemplary human beings!

Canadians are polite ... they even ask you to share the pathways with the pigeons.

Canadians are environmentally aware ... recycling literally everything.  They even have public bins for food scraps to be composted (by whom? The Ministry of Composting?) and even for those Stampede midway stuffed animals you just spent $42 to win and now realize it's a $3 made-in-China throwaway.

Canadians are proud ... as they should be .... of their beautiful country.  We're fully ready to seek exile in Canada, and not just if  >>insert your hated candidate Trump/Clinton HERE<< gets elected. We've adjusted to driving in kilometers and figured out how much salmon we're buying when it's priced by the gram, and having our pockets weighted down with heavy $1 and $2 coins.

We also accomplished our goal of being cold, actually frickin-freezing 90% of the days of this trip and using an electric blanket at night!  The general formula was that wherever we were in Canada, it was about 50% the temperature at home.  114 in Phoenix?  57 in Canada!  Yesssssssssssssssss!  That's enough to make Sprinkles (and us) smile from ear to ear!

A 100% accurate map of North America as drawn by a Canadian.

As we beeline back home after 6.5 weeks of Canadian adventures, we're brainstorming our 2017 Summer Adventure (???) because HOME IS WHERE YOU PARK IT!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Calgary, AB Canada: Yahh-Hooo, It's The Calgary Stampede!

The Lucky Charm moseyed on over to the 104th Annual Calgary Stampede, billed as the "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth."  This title had us curious about the Greatest INDOOR Show on Earth, but after investigating a series of brothels and poker lounges, we had to accept that the lowly West Edmonton Shopping Mall had already claimed this title.  But I digress.

The Stampede began in 1912 to celebrate Calgary's western heritage and pioneer spirit.  It also brings a whole-heap 'o' money to the town, so they do it every year.  Capitalism!  And who wouldn't get excited to attend a "ROMPING RANGELAND RUMPUS" ?

The 10 days of the Stampede kick off with a parade and it's a real doozy, second in the world only to the Rose Bowl Parade.  This year it had more than 700 horses, multiple marching bands, floats galore and much much more.  Entries came from as far away as Denmark.  It was an exciting place to be!

A particularly poignant parade entry was some of the people of Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta, thanking all of Canada for helping them when massive wildfires raged there last summer.  Over 80,000 were displaced and there was not a dry eye in the stands as they went past.

Most of the floats maintain the western theme, even this entry for  "Men In Kilts Window Washing," whose slogan is "No Peeking" and is apparently an actual company.  Capitalism, again!

Even the street cleaners get into the spirit.

Though the Alberta town of "Vulcan" can't be faulted for ignoring the Western theme.
Captain Kirk surely doesn't own any cowboy boots!

The Parade leads directly into the Stampede Grounds to open up the party.  Over a million people attend the Stampede and the official slogan should really be "Your State Fair on Steroids."  

Of course there's livestock ... lots and lots of livestock!
What a big, handsome stallion ... and the one on the left, too!

Besides midway rides and hawkers selling Sham-Wow cleaning cloths, there are also literally hundreds of other forms of entertainment.  Talent competitions. Hypnotists. High diving shows. Stunt motorcyclists. Canine trick stars (all rescues!).  Tractor pulls.  Sheep shearing and cattle penning competitions. Trick riding shows. Art auctions.  Live musical performances galore.  You can't possibly do it all, but we did enjoy the Snowmobile Daredevils and the Peking Acrobats.

One of our favorite events was the Cowboy Up competition, where riders had to coax their horses through a timed obstacle course.

This course also included the famed "Wait For Me Without Moving While I'm In the Outhouse" obstacle, which every woman who has ever attended a sporting event with her man knows all about.

But the "real deal" is a real rodeo, and since it has one of the world's richest purses (over $2 million!), it gets the best cowboys (and girls).  They compete in saddle bronc, bareback, bull riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling and barrel racing.

The iconic event of the Stampede are the Chuckwagon Races, nicknamed "hell's half mile" and designed to imitate cowboys breaking camp really really quick, like maybe because a predator or angry ex-girlfriend is on their way.  

I will assume you have never been a competitor in this team sport and explain it in a general way.  

1.  Be in a wagon with 4 spazzed-out horses who have been bred only to run this race.  Have two of your friends ("outriders") on horses.  Wear matching outfits so nobody gets confused.  One friend holds the team of horses on a mark until an air horn goes off, when the other friend in the back throws an old-fashioned camp stove into the back of the wagon.  Then they both have to get back on their horses, lickedy-split.

2.  Drive your wagon in a figure-8 around the barrels with your outrider buddies in hot pursuit.  If they don't finish the race within 150 feet of you, you lose points.  Remember, each individual horse has to catch up with the team of 4 horses running together.  Not easy!

3.  Crushed barrel = bad.  Points docked.  

4.  Run around a huge track really, really fast, hoofs-a-blazin'.   It was waaaaay exciting to watch!  

5.  Finish before everyone else.  Duh!  Move on the the finals.  And, the purse for this event alone is $1,000,000+, so it's serious business.  

In one of the heats, the wagon actually dumped over (the driver jumped out in time) and the horses dragged it ON ITS SIDE for 3/4 of the way around the track before they could stop the team.

After the evening chuckwagon races, the stadium is quickly transformed for the "Grand Spectacular" Show.  The behemoth stage has been patiently waiting off on the side all day for its turn in the spotlight.  A tractor drags it out onto the chuckwagon track and within 20-25 minutes the whole thing is wired up and ready for the show!

What makes the show even more extraordinary is that the 120 performers known as the Young Canadians are all kids ages 11-18, who study dance, voice and performance year-round in preparation for the Stampede.   

The white figures at the top in the photo below are drummers suspended hundreds of feet above the ground ... whoa!  Shortly thereafter a huge grand piano and player also flew over the crowd. 

Also a part of the show are a laser light show, trick motorcyclists, flaming tightrope walkers, fireworks, and much more more. It is a dazzling spectacle, truly awe-inspiring, and since Philip has been working in Las Vegas for the past 4 years, we've seen every Cirque du Soleil and over-the-top stage show imaginable ... this was just as good, if not better!

The party-place of the Stampede is the huge, ever-popular bar tent called "Nashville North," and on weekends in particular there is a 4-hour wait to get in and it's standing room only.  It's similar to the Birds' Nest concert venue at the Scottsdale-based Phoenix Open, but more real cowboys and less Botox.  Many rising country stars have performed here over the years and it was a blast!

Back on the midway, mini-donuts are the traditional Stampede snack, with over 2,000,000 consumed here each year.  Also, one beer every 7 seconds.

But there are some other delicacies in hot pursuit of the title on this year's midway!  Behold ......

Nothing says"western heritage" like a bacon burger served on a glazed maple donut.

Poutine is a delicacy originating in Quebec and is basically the pinnacle of Canadian fast-food.
It is french fries, topped with cheese curds, and drenched in light-brown beef gravy.

If you can't decide between a burger and mac'n'cheese, why not both?

We know where your mind is going with this next one, and you should be ashamed.

Lastly, the Stampede hosted 3 big-name concerts (well, 2 big names + Jeff Dunham the Ventriloquist, who must have a very talented booking agent) in the Saddledome, where their hockey team plays.  Zac Brown Band from Georgia was phenomenal!  They played all their favorite country hits (and there are a lot of them!) but threw in some crazy-good renditions of hard-rock classics from Led Zeppelin, Queen, and Black Sabbath.  Unexpected and so much fun!

We had a great time at the Stampede, and now we're gonna stick around Calgary for another week and see what (non-cowboy) charms it offers up.  Yippee yahoo, pardners!