Baconfest, need I say more?

Tues, SEPT 20 2011

Bacon, the bringer and giver of life… to breakfast. The savoury marbled marvel that makes even the most bland and benign dishes into culinary masterpieces.

It goes with eggs, it goes on a sandwich, it can be wrapped around anything, it can be crumbled on anything. Bacon, in all its glorious forms, is potentially the most versatile of all foods. It has been eaten across the globe and across the centuries. Bacon has even invaded the world of pop culture as this highly educational quote from The Simpsons demonstrates:

Lisa: I’m going to become a vegetarian.

Homer: Does that mean you’re not going to eat any pork?

Lisa: Yes.

Homer: Bacon?

Lisa: Yes, dad.

Homer: Ham?

Lisa: Dad all those meats come from the same animal.

Homer: Right Lisa, some wonderful, magical animal!

And, indeed, how magical it is for giving us the gift of bacon.

Given all of this I think it’s about time bacon got its due and thanks to a man named Tim Tamashiro it will. Tamashiro is the mastermind behind Baconfest – a celebacon of bacon. It is his theory that, “bacon is our national meat and its salty sweet goodness is enough reason to dedicate an entire day to it.”

However, there is a purpose to the event greater than clogging arteries in delicious fashion. Baconfest will be raising money for the Inviti Jazz & Food Festival that will be launching in August 2012 in Calgary.

This Saturday’s event will play host to a number of premiere vendors including Crave Cupcakes (who are concocting a special bacon cupcake for the event) and five food trucks (including the infamous Alley Burger truck and, my personal favourite, the Los Compadres Mexican truck)!

Games aplenty will occur throughout the day including a bacon eating contest. Contestants include a man flying in from Ottawa – which is an unexpected way of confirming that pigs do fly – and an 11-year-old girl. Yep, because bacon knows not the bounds of age nor stature.

While all of this is in good fun – and good taste – it is also provides a platform to discuss an issue that plagues many of us but has yet to be recognized by society.

Bacon addiction.

As I’m sure many of you plan on going hog-wild I urge you to also know the signs. The following is an important checklist by which you can gauge your ability to handle this “festivus for the restivus” in a safe manner.

You know you might have a problem if…

1) You have noticed a significant increase in your bacon consumption. When asked, you claim to have a higher bacon tolerance than you used to.

2) You crave bacon every time you do the laundry because it releases a greasy bacon-infused scent that reminds you of waking up at grandmas house. Also, you find bacon bits in the lint trap.

3) Your social life has deteriorated and you are spending more and more time eating bacon alone. You use bacon to relieve stress after a long day.

4) You’ve looked at bacon packaging to see if there is a “maximum dosage” listed.

5) When confronted you have defended bacon stating that it is the healthiest option available – it is a cured meat after all.

Be careful out there.

Baconfest is being held at the Bowness Community Center on Saturday, September 24th. Tickets are $19.95 for adults, $9.95 for kids aged 6-12 and free for those under 6. Why would you bring a child to this?

I want to know, what does bacon mean to you?

Stay bacon, my friends.

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P.S. Bacon is truly a global phenomenon but still there are billions of people who can not eat it. While the question is bigger than I am, and I must leave it to the theologians, I feel compelled to ask – how can a meat so clearly cut by the hand of god be denied by him?

 


 

Cirque's OVO a masterpiece

Thurs, SEPT 8 2011

If a trampoline artist falls in the Grand Chapiteau, does the crowd make a sound?

As I discovered at Calgary’s Premiere of Ovo the answer is yes – an exuberant and rowdy cheer. Subdued for all of the first five minutes, the audience was quickly submerged into a world distant and far from the daily life occupied for all the previous hours of the day.

Flawless and inspired costume design (there’s something I never thought I’d say), an auditory treat of familiar sound bites mixed with shocking melodies and an ever-morphing stage combine to produce an unrivalled spectacle. Add the performers and the show is an impressive combination that can only be described in terms of a 6th sense it creates, disbelief.

Defying what one might imagine as the limits of humanity Cirque’s performers showcase strength, agility and creativity with the human body that puts the Olympics to shame. In fact, by my guesstimate I would have to assume that every single Olympian since 1976 must be employed by Cirque De Soliel. I can not imagine another venue encompassing this kind of ability and talent.

Seems like the Cirque name speaks for itself these days so I’ll spare you further reading – check out the video for a quick look at Ovo:

Ovo is a rare opportunity to see a show of this caliber in our backyard. Tickets can be yours for as little as $63 and they’re worth every penny. If you’re shy about buying the low-end tickets have no fear – there isn’t a bad seat in the house. I thought my seats way in the back would be sub par but it turns out that they might’ve been some of the best in the whole place.

Want more details on Ovo? Check out the website here.

Want to buy tickets? Try here. The show runs through October 9th.

Want to wait? Check out one of your only other opportunities here.

Oh, and no trampoline artists actually fell during the performance although a numbers of jaws did.

Stay local, my friends.

P.S. Bonus points if you can guess what the 1976 olympics and Cirque De Soliel have in common.

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Has Peter's petered out or is burger history just that tasty?

Thurs, SEPT 1 2011

How’s this for blasphemy, I don’t really care for Peter’s drive in.

Yes, I get it, it’s a piece of Calgary history. It lives deep in the fabric of eating cow in our city. I could never take that away from Peter’s and I’m not about to try.

But the last time I checked ‘history’ does not have a taste – save for the perpetually expired milk that inhabits my fridge.

{LakeAtLarge chows down on a ‘slice’ of the burger featured at the top of this article. Only available for the 10 days of Stampede this gargantuan burger concocted at the Lazy S is enough bovine goodness to satiate even the hungriest cowpoke}

This summer I’ve discovered enough guru’s of the ground, champions of the chuck and masters of the mince to supply my years quota of calories. What’s more, I’ve found a classic battle raging in pursuit of the answer to a simple age-old question: Is Peter’s the best burger in Calgary?

Those who are loyal are fiercely so, “It’s undeniable” says Heather Douglas. “The burgers are amazing. You get that extra half patty smothered in that mystery sauce, the onion rings are incredible and there’s nowhere else you can get that many flavours of milkshakes.”

{Peter’s drive-in employee Arden Hunt serves Sean Healy with wife Heather and daughter Cooper, 3, as the family makes a traditional stop while visiting Calgary from Edmonton. Photo by Ted Jacob/Calgary Herald}

However, the other side of the fence is equally vocal, “If you’re talking about the best burger then there’s no way Peter’s comes out on top,” exclaims Dolan Glass. “It’s just a burger, nothing more. Sure, the shakes are good but if you want the real deal go to Burger Inn and get a substantial burger charred to perfection. It’s doesn’t need some sugary treat on the side to justify its existence.”

{Burger Inn general manager René Pahlavan showed off a wild boar burger which is one of the specialty burgers they serve to their customers. Photo by Colleen De Neve/Calgary Herald}

While I am firm on my side of the taste debate it’s also hard to deny the place Peter’s Drive In has in the hearts of many like Valerie Meador. A Floridian displaced to Montana with Canadian roots, Valerie knows a thing or two about North America’s diverse food scene and she always stops at Peter’s, “When we got married 10 years ago my husband and I decided to take our honeymoon in Banff,” she says in her fading southern drawl. “All our family from Edmonton insisted that we stop at Peter’s and since then we’ve come back every year.”

Her husband, Byron, is smitten with the taste too – he’s spent years trying to replicate the bbq sauce that Peter’s slathers on. He takes mental notes with each visit that bring him a step closer to perfection with each passing year.

The way I see it Peter’s is like religion or a grocery store. Your parents chose to be loyal to one their whole lives and that’s likely where you’re going to be loyal too. You can’t take the value of history away from someone but with all of the new burger joints around could it be that Peter’s is just that, history?

So, you tell me, is Peter’s the best burger in the city?

Stay local, my friends.

P.S. For the uninitiated, here are some of the names I have heard tossed around as competition: Boogie’s burgersBurger InnRocky’s Burger BusCharcutDairy Lane,LoungeburgerTommy Burger Bar and my personal favourite hidden gem, The Firehouse burger from Muldoon’s off 130th Ave.

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Forecast calls for an exploding sky - Italy to blame

Wed, AUG 24 2011 

This just in! Thursday night sky to erupt in a blaze of fire and colour. Those living in East Calgary are advised to remain by their windows and all citizens are urged, if at all possible, to make their way down to Elliston park by 7:00pm.

Initial reports suggest that an Italian team of pyrotechnicians may have been plotting this event for several months and an unconfirmed source claims that shipments of ray shells, star mines, peony roman candles and even gold glitter have recently crossed the border into Canada.

Warnings of a second event have already been issued for Saturday, August 27th…

Globalfest is already in full swing and last years fireworks champions – Italy – will be blasting off on the 25th with what should prove to be one of the most memorable shows to ever light up the Calgary skyline. If the Canadian demonstration on the 23rd was any indication it’ll have to be spectacular to give the reigning champs any hope.

Here are my tips for enjoying the event:

1) Come early – There’s lots to do before the show like music from around the world, plays and comedy. don’t forget to visit the night market.

2) Come hungry – International foods galore. My suggestion? Try the food trucks or get adventurous and go to the Indonesia tent to try the Gado Gado! (coincidentally the walk back to the car at night’s end reminded me of my time in Indonesia – see if you can figure out what I mean)

3) Don’t eat at the Olive Garden beforehand (See point 2. Also, “rules to live by”)

4) Prepare – Bring a hoodie to fight the evening chill and don’t forget chairs to reserve a spot and watch the show from. Bug spray is also a good idea.

5) Plan for parking – It’s limited so get down early and find a spot or take a Globalfest bus from Marlborough mall ($6 ea.). My advice? Park as close as you can and walk – there’s a good spot West of the Zeller’s off 52nd Street for $5.

Tickets are $15 and you can find out more at www.globalfest.ca.

Globalfest – Something to get fireworked up about.

Stay local, my friends.

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Meatless eatery declares Coup on proud carnivore 

Mon, AUG 22 2011

I’ve got room for all of god’s creatures… right next to the mashed potatoes.

Like a lot of Albertan’s I take pride in my meat - I wear the meat sweats like a badge of honour, I idolize The Colonel and I use every part of the Buffalo.

Despite this love, and against every morsel of my being, I recently decided to take a trip from the ranch to the farm and see if Calgary’s hottest new vegetarian restaurant, The Coup, could meat my grain-fed expectations.

Let me get one thing straight, if you avoid The Coup assuming that only an herbivore would be interested in its fare then you will be missing out on a truly unique and tasty experience.

It’s organic. It’s local. It’s fresh. And, just like a vegetarian person, it’s better than you are.

My table ordered the Beatnuts (a goat cheese based pate served on cucumber) and the Cajun Tempeh Sticks (a spicy little number that very closely resembles meat) to start and we fought over every last bit of both. I ordered The Upstream Burger and never looked back. To the uninitiated it appears as a simple yam burger but the spices, textures and flavours combine to create an orgy of meatless flavour on your tongue. Based on what my friends ordered the entire menu follows suit.

As far as drinks go there is only one comment – this is potentially the best drink menu in the entire city. Creative, fresh and something for all tastes. If you can’t handle a meal sans le meat then you have to drop by the lounge to sample the beverages.

We sampled both the Blackberry Porter beer and the Red Sangria and both were a hit.

The service and quality round this restaurant concept out nicely. A friendly server, warmed burger bun and jug of water are highly underestimated elements of a pleasant experience and all were present here.

The best part? We all over-ate but we all felt incredible after. The honest truth is that getting meat sweats is likely your body’s way of saying you’re one step closer to achieving myocardial infarction. After eating at the Coup I felt fresh, reenergized and totally ready to chow down on the 2.5lbs of Marble Slab ice cream that was waiting back at my friends apartment.

The Coup is a hit and I’m excited to go back. Check ‘em out at 924 17th Ave SW or online at www.thecoup.ca. Make sure you bring your own bag or container for take-out, you’ll get a discount!

Finally vegetarians can rejoice in pure meatless opulence and carnivores can simply give their colon a breather without sacrifice.

Stay local, my friends.

P.S. Alternate titles for this article included “Tofu or not Toe-food?”, “Fakin’ bacon can be good for you”, “Coup d’etat on your Carne-l instincts” & “Coup no place for meating chickens”

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All photos courtesy The Coup


The ghosts of Calgary's past 

Mon, AUG 15 2011 

We live in a new city with some very old secrets.

Sitting far below the modern glass skyscrapers are hundreds of buildings that have been here since the infancy of our town. While small, a handful of these places have seen enough life to make them storied.

Thankfully, a handful of dedicated guides donning capes and lanterns are here to tell those stories – and maybe add a few embellishments here and there.

{Give someone a cape and a hat and it's amazing how easily you believe anything ghost-related they tell you}

Murder, mystery, intrigue, cuckolds, mistresses and conspiracy combine to form the underworld history that some believe lives on past the death of its earthly constituents. That’s right, we’re talking’ ghosts. Ghosts and the new-age bards that make up Calgary Ghost Tours.

Did you know that the zoo was preceded by 12 brothels? 12! Or that while under local employ the Sundance kid was hunted down by Butch Cassidy on a very popular street corner? How about Calgary’s monkey ghost? And did you know that Patrick Swayze still haunts a local pottery studio?

Ok, that last one was a lie. But the rest are true. Maybe.

While I can’t say I’m a believer in ghosts nor fan of the culture I found the downtown tour fascinating for, if nothing else, its portrayal of the rich history that got us to where we are today. Our guide, Johanna, had a strong sense of a bygone era and juxtaposed it nicely with knowledge of modern players and tomorrow’s potential ghosts.

Ghost tours run from Inglewood, downtown, Kensington, the Beltline and Banff. At 13 bucks a pop the tours are even reasonable as a simple excuse to take a walk around and see our streets through new eyes.

I was consistently amazed at how many things I’ve never noticed on Stephen Ave, a street I’ve probably walked 500 times. Make sure you check out the gargoyles on the outside of the “Out There” adventure store? If you desire the history of them then you’ll have to take a tour.

Stay local, my friends.

P.S. As an example of how easy it is to miss unique and interesting things downtown I issue the following challenge: Can any of my readers tell me where the gravesite pictured below is located? It’s smack in the middle of the core and it’s pretty likely that you’ve walked right past it many times!

 


 

Food truck bonanza proves quick food isn't always fast 

Thurs, AUG 11 2011 

My mother told me very specifically to never take food from a man in a van.

Which is why I had no problem taking fries from Ms. Lani and the Fries and Dolls food truck.

I then proceeded to more precisely disobey my mother by taking food from men in three other trucks.

A veritable convoy descended on the core to satiate a bevy of voracious eaters who came for sustenance and to welcome, with great fanfare, food trucks to Calgary’s culinary scene. This was Taste the Trucks, an introduction to Calgary’s newest food sensation – the food truck.

{The crowd was easily into the thousands. If you tried to go and were deterred make sure you try to find the trucks again - this format was a one-time thing}

I went to Taste the Trucks with the noble intent of sampling the fare from each of the seven trucks that lined Stephen Ave – for you the reader, of course – but was fully thwarted by a Red Mile-esque crowd. If these trucks were once an underground phenomena they are now officially above ground and likely to be paving a street near you with grease and scrumtrelescent joy soon.

The Charcut truck, and chef Connie DeSousa (apparently I’m suppose to know that name from TV?), served the Alley burger to a perpetually snaking line of hundreds and Perogy Boyz sold out in two hours. Clearly the word is out about them, so I tried some other stuff:

Fiasco Gelato

Gelato is said to have birthed ice cream. That is to say that it came first. It’s also less fatty. That’s probably why all the people in those movies about ancient Rome are so skinny.

Get skinny by eating lots of Fiasco when they park outside your front door. I had the Blackberry and Limonata and both were outstanding – I think all the fat in ice cream gets in the way of the flavor as this stuff was potent goodness.

{Local HR dynamo Christie Pryor enjoys a salted caramel gelato atop the Fiasco scooter}

Fries and Dolls

French fries are so done. It’s a good thing, then, that retro is super hot right now.  The gals, or should I say Dolls, serve up all kinds of specialty fries wearing vintage polka dot dresses that match their hot pink van in era only.

Hey pimply kid behind the counter at New York Fries – eat your heart out. That’s what I did with their truffle oil infused fritters topped with Grana Padano Parmesan. Isn’t it absurd what happens to a food when you put cheese on it?

{Cheese on fries? Maybe someone should tell the French... oh wait...}

In addition to standard potato fries they also have a tidy selection of sweet potato fries and, I don’t know if you know this or not, sweet potato fries are also super hot right now.

JoJo’s BBQ

If Superman has kryptonite I have BBQ. I was prepared to decimate the contents of this truck like a rig-drivin’ tailgating southern redneck hillbilly but alas my dreams were dashed by the aforementioned crowds. The menu was on its last legs and only one item was still available.

I got my paws around a small pulled pork sandwich which seemed to be crying for more of what was probably the dregs of the sauce. I’ve heard good things about JoJo’s so I didn’t call this the final test.

{Pulled pork always pulls at my heartstrings}

No BBQ joint escapes, JoJo. I’ll be back. You just be ready!

Los Compadres Mexican

The winner is…

I ordered the “mixed taco” dish consisting of three of the most flavourful tacos I’ve ever had. The highlight was the chorizo sausage taco but the pork and greens was also mindblowingly tasty.

After waiting in line for over an hour  I received the very last three tacos served. The food might have been good but the distinct taste of victory probably helped.

What’s the point?

I didn’t get the big deal at first but after tasting the food I think I understand – Mobile food is not fast food, this is quick and seriously high quality food that could easily grace the tables of a restaurant. Sure the trucks are a bit of a gimmick but I promise you will be rewarded for tracking one down.

Check out http://www.yycfoodtrucks.com to get more info on a food truck coming to a curb near you.

Stay local, my friends.

P.S. If you’re interested in taking the health option up a notch stay tuned for my review of The Coup restaurant coming soon.

P.P.S. Pulled pork is also super hot right now.

{Tips welcome? Here's a tip: order more stock next time.}

 


 

Strawberry u-pick at your own risk at Kayben Farms 

Wed, AUG 3rd 2011 

Pamplona has its running of the bulls, Boston has its marathon and up until a few days ago I thought Calgary had the running of the tarpies (the mad dash to get a tarp down at Folk Fest.).

That was until I discovered something much more serious.

The first sign that I was in over my head came as I raced down highway #2 with what I could only assume was other innocent traffic. No, no – these were die-hard U-pickers in clever disguise as regular citizens.

Mere meters from the turnoff onto 306th Ave travelling South of the city I, along with another picker, were passed at high speed and promptly cut off by someone who swerved across both lanes onto the rural road. I didn’t get the connection until the picker I was with explained that this was done to score a better spot in line.

Oh it’s so on.

Kayben offers Strawberry picking on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9am and Saturdays at 10am and you better be there when the gates open otherwise you might just be out of luck!

Because of limited crops and frequent cancellations (to let the berries ripen) there is a quiet ferocity as people jump out of their cars and speedwalk towards their chance at U-pick glory. Dial up the intensity one more notch and I would’ve expected to see some pushing, shoving and maybe a good old trampling. But on this day it was not to be as on this day the crowd was reservedly and repressedly civil as they shot glances at the competition from across the parking lot.

The only crimson flowing in the fields on this morn was berries into baskets.

Since this is an event dominated by U-pick veterans I highly recommend upping your game by planning ahead. Here is some of my strategy:

1) Wear good shoes, pants, gloves and be ready for a little dirt. Camouflage is a plus.

2) Know your physical limitations. The fit can go straight to the fields, others to the raised beds. Eat some protein before you head out there and for God’s sake hydrate, people.

3) Familiarize yourself with the strawberry plant – berries grow in all kinds of hidden places and if you get into it with another picker you better know why strawberries aren’t actually berries. Don’t embarrass yourself. 

4) Know thy children. We passed several mothers wasting time getting children out of car seats or wiping runny noses. There’s no time! I’m torn on this one though, you can use the children as free slave labour to increase your harvest dramatically but they will definitely slow you down. Either train them for success or just send them to the kiddie play area.

5) If you have to work a strawberry bush line behind someone follow someone with small children. They suck at picking and will leave lots behind.

6) Get serious. Rent a truck and hire some cheap labour.

What, did you really think I was going to give you my actual strategy? Get real, it’s strawberry picking season baby. This is serious business and I’m not about to give my secrets away.

While the strategy is a bit of a joke there is some hidden skill to doing this. Me and my companion, Leigh (a local celebrity at the farm it would seem), worked both sides of the same line of bushes the entire time yet she somehow managed to exactly double my harvest. 

Come check out the seedy – and delicious – underbelly of Calgary’s strawberry community. While you’re there don’t forget to get the eversoft chocolate/raspberry scone at JoJo’s Cafe and do some shopping at the incredible garden centre. The real highlight is for the kids who can frolic with abandon in the Sunshine Adventure Park which has a Berry Bounce, Pedal Kart Track, Corn Maze and myriad other fun things. They even have horsies.

Stay local, my friends.

P.S. Seriously, it’s important to stay up-to-date on the status of this event as it changes often – follow @Jojoscafekayben on twitter or check out the website for more info. While you’re at it follow @lakeatlarge too!

 


 

Classy cruising on the reservoir with Heritage Park 

Thurs, JUL 28 2011 

As far as landlocked cities go there are few with better topographical delights than Calgary and “area”. However, to many, myself included, the sea holds a certain gravity – a force that speaks from thousands of kilometers away.

There are plenty of options here to abate the siren song of the ocean waves. I raft, fish, hike along the many rivers and recently discovered a classy little waterborne trip on our reservoir.

For the last five years Heritage Park has been catering to a decidedly more “adult” crowd by offering the Captain’s Cruise.

SS Moyie at Heritage Park

A 2 hour journey aboard the S.S. Moyie comes complete with delicious appetizers (I recommend the salmon pinwheel), desserts and soothing live jazz music piped across the vessel.

Oh, and did I mention the views? With no homes built along the shores of the lake there are large tracts of uninterrupted greenery that transport passengers to B.C. shores.

An especially rare view is gained by looking North to see our cityscape sitting atop the still water.

Calgary Skyline

Sailboats scurry around the Moyie and rowers dart across her path while the paddlewheeler traverses the contours of Calgary’s largest body of water.

I will take any chance to get out on the water and this is likely the most relaxed and laid-back way to do it within the city.

Based on what I saw the voyage is best enjoyed as a place to host a corporate party (as one large bank happened to be doing on my night – comping drinks is only fair, managers) or for those who want a classier way to get out on the water.

At $74 per person the price is a bit restrictive but for those whose hearts yearn for the water this should be an option.

Stay local, my friends.

P.S. Did you know that the S.S. at the beginning of a ships name stands for Steam Ship? While ships driven by paddlewheels, like the Moyie, can also be classified as P.S. for Paddle Ship


Stay Folked Up, Even After Folkfest 

Tues, JUL 26 2011 

Crowds rushed the stage after one song by The Head and The Heart for the biggest satellite stage surprise.

The masses were silenced by k.d. lang’s rendition of Hallelujah for the least surprising moment of awe.

Hula hoopers, hippies and tarpies converged in harmonious coexistence with weekend warriors and festie rookies, like myself.

If you were there or have read anything about Folk Fest you likely know all of this. My first multi-day experience at the fest yielded these finds and countless others but it was the overall experience that I felt uncomfortable writing about until it was complete. 

Folkie is essentially a 4 day vacation in the park. My first day was spent speed walking from stage to stage according to predetermined schedule. On the second day there was rain – mother nature tested the mettle of the crowd and there I sat throughout with a devoted crew of few. The third day, after my initiation, I walked a little slower aiming my momentum wherever the sounds of big stages and cheering crowds took me. 

And, on the fourth day, I rested. Basking in the sun with eyes closed and ears open or dancing loose limbed – peaceful in very different ways.

It seemed that I was moving in rhythm with the rest of the crowd as, together, we all shed the shackles of the concrete jungle that stood peeking just over the treetops. However, it is the commerce represented by those towers allows us to live in a city so vibrant with opportunities to explore outside their glass and aggregate walls. So often we deride what makes our city a great place to work and live; so easy comes the inability to balance the two. 

Finding this equilibrium is our job as individuals but paying a little more attention sure helps. Prior to my first month of rediscovering this place I had assumed it to be full of potential based on nothing more than logic. Now I’ve discovered that it has always been kinetic in its motion – it’s just being driven by a larger and louder populous than I ever imagined.

While Folk Fest is a ripe example in its 4 day island lifestyle glory, I have found smaller examples of this everywhere I go. The one tie that binds, as I have learned, is the people and their infectious enthusiasm for making the most of Calgary while also doing their part to make Calgary great. It’s really quite simple, it’s really quite beautiful, it’s really why I love this place.

All this leads me to one question:

Where the folk have I been?

Stay local, my friends.

 


 

Make time for blogger favs 

Wed, JUL 20 2011 

By Chris Lake 

Einstein famously said that "the only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once."

I guess he should know because for a guy who I thought would've been pretty wrapped up in physics he certainly had a lot of time to come up with quotes.

I suppose it's all relative though, isn't it?

So far, as Calgary's Next Top Blogger, i've been so busy that time seemed to overlap itself over the 10 days of Stampede, stop completely in the quiet of our city parks and I swear it moved backwards once while I was mid-dive roll in an aerobatic plane for the Airdrie Airshow.

Here are my personal highlights so far (some from the blog, others that didn't make it):

 Kananaskis Heli Tours - C'mon, you're in a helicopter flying through a place renowned across the globe for its beauty. Being local is not an excuse to miss this - no hike nor drive will ever do this moving viewpoint justice. Possibly the sexiest special occasion option you've never thought of.

Belmont Diner - I've tried a few B-fast spots trying to find someone that doesn't just throw an egg on the grill and a 50's TV in the corner in order to call it good and retro. These guys absolutely nail the first meal of the day. I'd call my menu item of choice, the Calgary Sandwich, a local hero but I'd hate for anyone to consider this another franchise hoagie. This a slam dunk must try.

Dames on the Range - I found myself smiling ridiculously and inexplicably as I moved through the scenery from ranch to ranch discovering what makes our Western spirit something to care about. The world outside the city is quiet but thriving and these ladies put the people, animals and land on display.

Festivals - Sure, the Stampede is an obvious choice but there seems to be a never ending flow of festivals here. Sled island, one of Canada's biggest music conglomerations, and Greek Fest are two recurring favorites that have come and gone but Folk fest, Sun & Salsa, Fringe, Afrikadey! and the film fest are yet to come.

Phil & Sebastian's Coffee Roasters - 3 locations, 3 atmospheres and an infinitum of incredible coffee choices. I discovered them as part of the YYC Disloyalty Program and so far they've stood up for a balanced and delicious brew - even the low-fat stuff bursts with caffeinated flavor. I can't wait to try their roasterie tour.

Stagewest - Dinner and a show. How can you go wrong? The quality of this buffet is worth the ticket price alone and the rotating plays are some of the best in the city

Not being bored - This is my favorite thing to do and it's been far easier than I thought. Yes, it may have been my obligation to experience Calgary but finding things to do couldn't have been simpler. Even still, I've barely scratched the surface of our potential. 

In the next two months I plan on doing a lot more that will hopefully give you some inspiration on how to stretch your legs in all four corners of our city. If I've learned one thing so far (which is actually asking a lot) it's that there's only one way to truly enjoy all that there is to do here - stop complaining, get up off your ass and just get out there. You won't be disappointed.

Stay local, my friends.

P.S. Don't forget to follow 'LakeAtLarge' on Facebook & Twitter and to sign up for email notifications on the right side of this page.


Flying in an arobatic airplane at the Airdrie Airshow (+video) 

Sat, JUL 16 2011

By Chris Lake 

Fighter pilots are scared of aerobatic pilots.

An aerobatic pilot, when equipped with the right machinery, can pull several more G's than any fighter aircraft out there today. In fact, several fighter pilots have gone up in the air with these guys and come down regretting it. Now it was my turn.

Kevin Hopkins of the Northern Aero's formation flying aerobatic duo was my pilot and the Russian Sukhoi-29 was his weapon of choice. A plane purpose-built to win aerial acrobatics competitions, the SU-29 is small, fast and limited only by the two fleshy entities sitting in its center.

{Kevin Hopkins of the Northern Aero's sitting on his wing pre-flight. I can't remember if his laugh was diabolical or not. It should have been}

When in competition this aircraft and its pilot fly in a category labeled 'unlimited class' which means, as Kevin describes, "Whatever you can think of, the aircraft will do."

As a preview to the airshow being held in Airdrie this weekend I put that statement to the test in the cockpit of Kevin's plane.

After having the aircraft strapped to every inch of my body I was surprised how calm I felt waiting on the tarmac. It didn't take long to shake that feeling.

A simple red string hung off the corner of each wing - when asked if its purpose was to determine wind direction prior to takeoff Kevin matter-of-factly responded,

"Nope, that tells me if I'm flying backwards."

That was about the same time I grabbed onto the handle overhead. Coming from any other pilot I've met those would've been famous last words.

Kevin punched the engine and the raucous vibration and sound of 400 horsepower attached to three propeller blades filled the cabin and we left terrestrial earth.

{You're not on Westjet anymore, Dorothy} (Image courtesy Northern Aero's)

Takeoff quickly turned into a snap 45 degree upwards angle and a hard right turn as we tore the sky open revealing a trail of smoke behind us.

This was the precise moment I felt it appropriate to perform a mental logic puzzle to determine whether or not I had just soiled myself. Indeed I had. I was sitting in a thick pool of joy.

This is the definition of exhilaration. Moving through 3 dimensions at speeds reaching over 300 km/h. The plane is easily bigger than a car, weighs half as much and triples the horsepower. While your average fighter jet is faster, it is no match for the maneuverability of an aircraft that has a roll rate of 400+ degrees a second.

We performed barrel rolls, vertical rolls, loops and unimaginable combinations of all 3. Some of the more complicated moves - called Cubans, half-Cubans and Split S's - saw us reach G-forces of 6.5 and negative 2. At that level of pressure my body weighed the equivalent of 1100lbs or, on the flipside, felt completely weightless.

At the extreme it is as though your cheeks will tear off your face and you lose all control of any loose limbs while the earth and sky become meaningless vestiges of a world you once inhabited.

This is physical and mental fortitude at its limit. Every movement the aircraft makes is purposeful and sharp. Kevin is expert at creating the sensation of total loss of control punctuated by a sudden motion that instantly rights the aircraft.

Or... does it? The ground is still above my head.

He later describes this experience as meditation. While in the sky he is at peace totally enraptured with focus. The worries of the world literally and figuratively float away as he performs some of the most intricate flying humanly possible.

It is a complex meld of man and machine that must be seen to be understood.

Being in the cockpit and talking to Kevin along with pilots of other stunt and historical aircraft was the most thrilling experience of my life. I knew a lot about flying before, it was a lifelong passion of mine, but I have come away with a whole new appreciation for the skill and art of flying at the edge.

Come see Kevin and the Northern Aero's live this Saturday and Sunday at the Airdrie Airpark. In addition, the Snowbirds, Viper West F-16 team and Pete McLeod with his Red Bull Racer will be there as will a bevy of other air and land based attractions.

For more information see the airshow website at www.airdrieairshow.com.

Stay local, my friends.

 


 

Take a break from Stampede 

Thurs, JUL 14 2011

By Chris Lake

While being retired doesn't lend itself to a lot of stress life always has its pressures. This blogging thing isn't just puppies and rainbows (although there are a lot of them) and Stampede has a way of wearing away the energy and resolve of even the most determined carouser.

For this reason I like to take a day off from the world's greatest show on earth around this time to rejuvenate. Mind and soul...  and liver and kidneys... and calluses... ewwww.

I call it my anti-Stampede day.

I usually like to keep things simple. I'm not a detox kind of guy but it's nice to wake up and have a ripe piece of fruit and read something more intellectual than my twitter feed (no offense to theBanff Squirrel but it's not always overly cerebral on there - although the Banff Squirrel is amazing, but I digress...) for the first time in a week.

I said it's nice. I didn't say I did it. 

Frankly what I could've used was a bottle of Pedialyte and 300mg of aspirin. Stat!

No, the start to this day involved something I never thought I would do. Ever. Especially in the midst of trying to pass as a cowboy for 10 days.

I got... a pedicure.

I visited Stillwater Spa in the Hyatt Regency hotel located downtown at 700 Center Street for a "nourish nooner" - an express treatment (either a manicure or a pedicure) that includes a take-out lunch from Thomsons restaurant. Designed to get you out of your office (or in my case, out of my boots) for a quick bout of relaxation it was a welcome change to actually taking care of my body. 

My aesthetician, Jocelyn, started by filling me in on the procedures to come including filing, shaping, buffing, cuticle care, an exfoliating sea salt scrub and a hydrating cream. I had to make her repeat it twice; it was like learning a new language. 

She even told me I had "good feet". I've been told I have  "good" this or that throughout my life but feet was a new one. That's a lie, I've never been told I have good anything.

I have to admit that I'm surprisingly pleased with having my feet "did". It was a great way to relieve some of the effect that walking the grounds for days at time can have. 

I took before and after pictures of my feet, however, I thought I would spare my dear reader and just show you some pictures of this urban oasis of a spa.

{The lounge itself is probably worth the visit - especially if you could use a few moments escape from the rat race}

{I chose the salmon lunch. It was fresh, delicious and full of... I forget the word... vegetables}

My version of anti-Stampede day also featured a total lack of hats, boots, denim and/or chaps. I ate a vegetarian dinner and called it an early night. It's good to take a break and I'm sure glad I did - I have a LOT more Stampedin' left to do.

Whether you like the Stampede or not it's pretty hard to avoid so how do you celebrate anti-Stampede day? How do you escape the constant buzz of the greatest show (work is not an acceptable response)?

Stay local, my friends.


Stampede round up at Fort Calgary 

Thurs, JUL 14 2011 

I've totally redefined my view on Stampede this year.

It used to be a 10 day excuse to binge with a few farm animals interspersed and some rides for the kiddies. Not anymore.

There is a lot of culture being celebrated on and off the grounds and for that, Stampede, I applaud you.

But then again how can we truly appreciate what we've come to know without occasionally reminding ourselves of the past.

Enter the Stampede Round Up at Fort Calgary.

Round Up

{Thousands gather to watch the show - Fort Calgary is a perfect venue with space for all to enjoy}

A yearly institution in our city, the Round Up always features great bands and a whole lot of alcohol. This year John Fogerty (of CCR fame) was the headliner with Big & Rich, Gretchen Wilson and The Odds leading him in. Over 15,000 people packed onto the fields of the fort to listen to the music and have a few beverages.

If the music or party scene isn't always your thing you should remember that you're drinking for a good cause - the event is held in support of Rotary Club Calgary.

A few charitable gals doing their part for the community

{A few charitable gals doing their part for the community}

Make sure you snag tickets or work your way into one of the corporately sponsored booths for next years event. A can't miss part of Stampede.

Stay local, my friends.


Stampede Rig Rides From Fluor Rope Square 

Wed, JUL 13 20111 

By Chris Lake 

The Calgary Stampede continues to surprise me in the most obvious places. This time? A parade of horses and carts riding through downtown under police escort.

It happens every day, it's free and it's a lot of fun.

Get down to the NE corner of Fluor Rope Square by 8:30am to score your tickets and ensure your spot on an old-timey Rig Ride

Rig Ride

{Try to get on one of the real carriages - they only hold 4 people but more than that they hold some Western mystique}

I had a great experience with Linda, our knowledgeable volunteer guide and rig #5 which was led by two Suffolk Punch horses (a rare breed, even at the Stampede) named Max and Sam who were held under reign by our driver, Dennis. 

It's a great chance to talk to some real cowboys and get up close and personal with their horses - something I appreciated even more since visiting the real life Alberta ranching community (read about it here).

New Friends on the Rig Ridge

{We had a lot of fun on my Rig as downtown ESL students from Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan got a real taste of some Western flavor - I underestimated how fun it can be to teach someone to Yahoo! for the first time}

The tour winds around the downtown core and includes a stop for pancakes... with bacon cooked in. Sold! It doesn't take long either so if you want to get out of your tower for a little while go down with some colleagues and do some business on an authentic horse drawn buggy.

I also had a chance to participate in the Lammle's hat stomp competition in which contestants have 30 seconds to completely destroy a cowboy hat. I'm not proud to admit that I completely embarrassed myself - I probably could have done more damage to a hat by spending a single night in Nashville North. Someone later told me that there are trick hats out there - I'm still not sure if they just felt sorry for me or if I did get duped, either way it was pretty hilarious to watch the creative ways my competition demolished their Stetson's.

Check out the Fluor Rope Square website for more info on these events and all the other activities these dedicated volunteers have rustled up for you this year.

Cowboy Up

{Past the pink shirt there's something so authentic about a rig driver enjoying a stogie on the journey}

Stay local, my friends.


Real Stampede experience found only outside the city 

Mon, JUL 11 2011 

By Chris Lake

The Stampede is upon us once again which means it's time to dust off the ol' cowboy boots.

Taking in the view

While we all reach into the depths of our closets for boots and buckles it's easy to forget the roots of the Greatest Show on Earth past the bright lights and fried delights. Those roots include a cattle drivin', calf ropin' past but also a large group of proud, determined and passionate people - both past and present - who wear Western clothing because it's practical, not fashionable.

These are the people that measure themselves by the dust their boots collect rather than the dust they clean off.

Finding the western spirit with a coupla' dames

There's no question that the Stampede is a boon to our city's profile, economy and spirit but it's also a celebration of the Western spirit and lifestyle upon which our growing conurbation was founded.

For this reason I sought to find out what real life out on the range is like. In so doing I was introduced to the Dames on the Range.

Broadly speaking the Dames are a collective of women who live and breathe Southern Alberta ranching. They operate major ranching operations in the Municipal district of Ranchland no. 66 but also share their world openly with a curious public.

Cowboy Country

This municipal district is the least populated in Alberta with 88 residents located within a massive expanse of land.  The census calculates this into a density of 0.0 people per square kilometer. (Photo courtesy Debbie Webster)

As Ma Dame Debbie describes, the primary focus of the group is to act as stewards of the land - educating visitors on the value of a healthy landscape for both the animals and people who inhabit it.

I was lucky enough to meet four of them over the course of one day last week.

Ropin' Cattle

A random roadside wranglin' is just one of the surprises I found on my way to my second ranch visit.

 Dame Jennifer and The Oxley Ranch

Several books have been written on the history of Oxley Ranch but Jennifer's account of past events proves far more riveting when combined with her obvious and infectious love of this place.

A storied history filled with intrigue, conflict and heartbreak is juxtaposed by the shockingly simple beauty of the varied landscape. Crossing rivers, passing a nest of baby bald eagles, rising to the hilltops, watching pelicans circle overhead and scanning the horizon and it's limitless blue sky is the perfect setting to learn about the real ranching life from someone who lives it everyday.

Although, to my surprise, Jennifer's focus is not on the operation of the ranch but rather the inner workings of the land.

She beams with pride as she points to a small patch of grass noting that over 18 species are thriving here. Other signs of a robust environment include several broods of young predatory birds, yearling trees sprouting from a once flooded riverside and a valley rich with life of all kinds.

Homestead at Oxley Farms

Dame Jennifer and her daughter Heather with the Oxley homestead in the background. I love that they live in a "homestead" - so authentic!

As she describes, the success of this ranch is fully determined by the success of its ecosystem. From an outsiders point of view it is thriving.

Eating lunch under a tree I am also able to get the generational perspective of her daughter, Heather. Ranching is a lifestyle under threat from many sources but from what I am able to gather it already runs through the blood of this young lady. As children move to the city in droves she seems steadfast in following in her mothers footsteps as a guardian of this land.

Guided horseback tours of several kinds and types are simply a must under the guidance of Jennifer and Heather. And while they took good care of this first time horse rider I must also give some credit to Rain, my trusty steed.

On the range

Ginny and Randy on the range (photo courtesy of Ginny Donahue)

Located on an unfathomably large plot of land (some owned, some shared - as most things are here) Sierra West is a curious city slickers paradise. A real ranch buffeted by several cabins and gathering places make this a good option for groups wanting to get out of the city without giving up the comfy bed.

Highlights here include a full service cantina and hall called Cowtown situated between cabins of various amenity levels. As I walked the site there was a family reunion underway and a few kids were getting ready for their first horseback ride over by the stable.

Cowtown

Cowtown is a great option for group outings and retreats (photo courtesy Ginny Donahue)

If you really want to embrace the ranching lifestyle they also have an option for you. With the Rockies looming in the distance I couldn't possibly think of a better backdrop for one of Sierra West's biannual cattle drives - you can sit back and watch or get right into the thick of the bovine rustlin' action over the course of a couple days.

For more info click here.

Dame Kate and Centre Peak High Country Adventures

Kate and her husband, Richard, are another rare example of young people who have made the conscious decision to stick to the ranching lifestyle.

Both have left the Livingston range to work and educate themselves but both have made a very conscious decision to return and dedicate their lives to this place.

It's not an easy lifestyle.

But they wouldn't have it any other way.

Again on horseback we cross through the fields of the DU Ranch as we move into the untouched subalpine terrain on the Eastern slope of the Rocky mountains.

From atop one of the lowest points of any of the tours they offer one can already see forever. Riding high on Tess, my good-natured but extremely hungry horse, the world seems to pull away beneath the clear blue skies.

As we look out over the land Kate and Richard engage me in an honest discussion of what it means to choose the path they have and the threats to them and the surrounding environment.

DU Ranch

Kate and Richard know exactly what they have at the DU Ranch.

Standing where new power lines would destroy hundreds of linear miles of landscape add perspective that any city slicker would likely benefit from. Hearing the serene silence broken by a proposed mine located just over a nearby hill makes one realize the consequences of progress.

Before coming here I wouldn't have known what there was to lose.

For more info click here.

Ma Dame Debbie and the Chimney Rock B&B

Debbie is the organizer of the Dames and is quick to point out the specialties of any and all of her members. After all, the group was founded on the belief that no one ranch could effectively relay a true-to-life ranching experience to guests if they offered all things under one roof.

Some of these ladies offer horseback riding experiences, others offer explorations into the nature of the region while others offer excursions into daily ranch life.

Debbie offers hospitality. Running a B&B lends itself to her nature and the nature of her ranch is one that abounds with life and tranquility. It is located on the edge of the Whaleback Ridge, which is noted as one of North America's most diverse ecosystems. Debbie is more than happy to share her knowledge of the plants and animals that call this place home while providing you with a place that feels like home.

Chimney Rock B&B

Udder tranquility awaits those who stay at the Chimney Rock B&B

If you're lucky you'll also get to spend time with her husband Tony who is a renowned storyteller. So much so that I managed to find three websites noting this fact - the first said all his stories were true, the second claimed most were true and the last said only some were true.

Ask him to tell the one about the blue heron, the outhouse and the city slicker and you'll see why.

For more info click here.

My second home on the range

This story covers a mere fraction of my experience but some of the best stories are best left untold for you to discover on your own.

While it may be my job to find them there are no words to describe my experience on this day. As with most travels my time on the range was defined more by the people than the scenery.

However, I remain stunned by the vista views atop the Oxley, the tranquility of Chimney Rock, the variety of Sierra West and sitting in the shadow of the Rockies staring out at the limitless expanse of land and sky from Centre Peak.

This place is something special. I am proud to call it my backyard and prouder still to know the people caring for it.

Stay local, my friends.

P.S. Keep in mind that the Dames offer all kinds of ranching adventures. Make sure you check out their website for more options and ideas.

 


 

New food at the Stampede 

Sat, JUL 9 2011

By Chris Lake

If I keep eating the way I am I'm going to change my name from LakeAtLarge to LakeIsLarge.

The Stampede certainly has no plans to help me fix my downward spiral into caloric mayhem, either. I went down to the grounds to sample some of the new foods which rely heavily on the frying process to achieve culinary delectablity. Not that I'm complaining.

Calgary Stampede Midway

As is always the case, the streets of the Stampede are paved in grease.

Kubie Kornballs

Maggie's Kubasa

I'll never understand the mobile foodery business model but apparently Maggie's been at it since 1943.

Find Maggie's Kubasa for the official 2011 "Best New Food" award winner: Kubie Kornballs.

The taste of the Kornballs was so simple yet so complex. It was like a fried cornbread pancake with a wondrous bacon center. Bascially Stampede breakfast in a ball. And, as the Stampede continually reminds us, food is always better when on a stick or in ball form.

Heart Stopping Great Eats

Yep, good ol' maple syrup on the side. You can also get ketchup for a sugar/sodium swap out.

Be warned that there is a high likelihood that you will end up with perpetually sticky fingers after eating the balls. I went to pat fellow blogger Reg Tiangha on the back after eating a couple of them and he ended up dragging me around the grounds for the equivalent of about 3 city blocks.

Doughnut Burger

Doughnut Burger

I've always wanted to see my name up in lights but then I have little to offer compared to doughnuts, bacon and beef.

It's exactly what you might imagine it being. A burger patty delicately ensconced within a delicious maple doughnut. We're not in bun country anymore.

Doughnut Burger

My heart jumped when I ate this. It may have been love or cardiac arrest.

Unfortunately the taste of the beef really overpowers the doughnut but let's be honest - the main reason you're eating this is to tell people that you ate it. You can't really expect a true taste sensation at this veritable merger of Wendy's and Tim Horton's.

Moowich

Moowich

The Moowich is really more of a mehwich.

Ice cream sandwiched between two fresh cookie handles is an undeniably tasty confection but it's been done. In my opinion there are more interesting options out there this year and if you're dying to get your hands on one spend your $5 at Superstore and get a box of 12. 

The Stampede has been adding pounds on the grounds for 99 years in a huge variety of ways. Make sure you try all the other delights for yourself including turkeytini's, deep fried pop tarts and, a personal favorite, bacon on a stick which can be found on the North end of the Nashville North strip.

Now the challenge: I've been looking for a legendary burger covered in jalapenjos for 4 years now, does anyone know where I can find it? What is your favorite Stampede food new or old?

One more year of this and, as Yakof Smirnoff might say: In Soviet Calgary, bull ride you.

Stay local, my friends.

 


 

And the winner is...

Fri, JUL 8 2011

By Chris Lake

A huge thank you to all those who submitted contest entries. I received a wide variety of ideas and learned a lot about the city in the process.

A few of the more flavorful ideas included:

  • A trip to Kayben Farms (which I have heard people rave about lately) with a twist; the royal couple would take a turn in the Berry Bounce and let loose a little
  • River rafting which, in and of itself, sounds pretty harmless but I just think of the desperate royal watchers diving in after them sans lifejackets; we'll have to buy the fire department another boat
  • Driving a bobcat and mixing cement on the new LRT line; if we did this with all tourists we could cut construction times in half
  • Paragliding into the grandstand show; steaming the wrinkles out of Kate's clothes afterwards would be the only deterrent
  • Serving a meal at the Mustard Seed (did you know Calgary has the highest rate of volunteerism in Canada?); or how about serving them a meal at the Seed?

A special runner's up recognition also goes out to Trevor who so graciously offered to chauffeur the royal couple around in his cherry red Dodge Shadow - he was even go to wash it for them. What a guy.

Trevor also offered to spice up a sneak-peak at the new Telus Science Center by dressing up as Alberta Einstein while his girlfriend dressed as Marie Curie - I'm sure she would've looked positively radiant. 

However, the winner of the Kananaskis Heli Tours flight for two is... Brianna Johnson!  

Brianna keyed in on what many did and suggested river rafting but ensured that the couple added some turf to the surf with a bit of mechanical bullriding at Ranchman's. One hand on the rope one hand on the fascinator type of thing. To show off a great Calgary invention the royals would then snack on some ginger beef at Bill's Peking house before heading to Prince's island for what might be, in my opinion, the most absurd game of frisbee imaginable with local celebrities like Lanny McDonald and Jann Arden. Somehow I don't see that game materializing.

Brianna also calls the game romantic. To each their own I suppose.

Make sure you take your disc on the ride, Brianna. And send photo's of your adventures!

If you want to get vertical yourself check out the details in the previous posts about Kananaskis Heli Tours (www.kheli.com) who graciously facilitated the prize.

Stay local, my friends.

P.S. Don't forget to sign up for email notifications on the right side of your screen or follow me on Twitter & Facebook (LakeAtLarge) to be updated on my adventures and for info on other contests.

 


Kananaskis by helicopter a trip fit for royalty 

Wed, JUL 6 2011 

By Chris Lake 

While I have yet to put my bucket list on paper I have long held the desire to conquer the land, sea and sky. I've been very lucky to have already taken many steps towards this goal including flying a Cessna, driving a Lamborghini, diving in the ocean and reaching the summit of a mountain. Frustrating is the fact that I keep coming up with new ways of experiencing this trifecta of environments.

Next was the dream of helicopter flight. If for nothing more than to scream "get to da choppa" in my best Arnie voice.

Kananaskis Heli

An almost imperceptible rotation to the right is the only indication that you have left the ground before prairie grassland begins to slip backwards beneath the large glass window just forward of your feet. Cutting through the air above your head are two rotor blades creating a sound that is undeniably that of a helicopter and that hold the cabin beneath by a single pivot point that allows for the sensation of rotation that first denotes lift off. 

Pilot and passengers quickly buzz past hundred year old green forests intersected by manmade roads and nature made rivers running high with both the runoff of mountain streams and rafters reveling in the high waters. Man's mark comes from a new angle as remnants of former P.O.W. camps, barely perceptible on foot, reveal the tortured past of a now serene and revered landscape that has opened itself to luxury resorts and ruggediers alike. Paths worn by visitors coming here for generations cross the level river terrain up to topographies thousands of feet in the air leading to the peaks of ancient sedimentary and metamorphic mountains.

Floating above the valleys and up to the crest of Mt. Loder the horizon becomes row after row of mountain peaks each still accented by caps of snow and, where the snow has fulfilled its destiny to the land below, the crags and sharp ridges slice into the blissfully blue sky waiting yonder.

Beautiful view

The mountain view creates a crescent that dominates every viewable angle fore of the bubbled windscreen but ones eyes are constantly cheated downward for the promise of up close slopesides, wildlife and the suddenly oh-so-rare humanlife. The promise of each is fulfilled and changes with each crest passing below and, with each mile flown, the seemingly limitless and predictable skyline changes dramatically.

This is our backyard and no drive nor hike could ever do this scenery the same justice that flight can.

And you too can experience what I did with the added bonus of a remote landing that will allow you to hike ground where, potentially, no human being has ever previously set foot. See the "Royal Itinerary contest" below to see how you can win your very own helicopter experience.

Kananaskis

If you want to purchase your own experience, Kananaskis Heli Tours (www.kheli.com) offers a huge selection of flights and packages to meet any budget or desire. While I was there other flights were leaving for hikes, a picnic and one was even leaving to be filmed. As you might imagine this is a hot ticket for engagements and special occasions but I know that if I should, god forbid, ever get married I'm ditching the fancy car and getting dropped off by these guys.

Located at the Stoney Nakoda Resort site the Kananaskis Heli airfield is located 35 minutes from the city and once airborne you are literally one minute from the pristine wilderness. I highly recommend taking a flight and experiencing, at a minimum, an up close view of the sheer cliffs of Yamnuska. 

If it is your goal there is no better way to conquer this landscape.

Heli-tours

Heli-hiking

Heli-yoga

Heli-vagoodtime

Stay local, my friends.

Chris Lake


 

Calgary Events precap for the week of July 3rd

Tue, JUL 5 2011 

By Chris Lake 

I think I could pretty much just write the word "stampede" in large bolded letters and get my point across for this week. The best part is I could just copy and paste the same thing for next week too. It's settled, I'm going to take the next two weeks off... just like the rest of the city.

But no, wait, there's more to do than just the stampede and let's start with some early warning...

THE BRITISH ARE COMING!

Not that it's a big surprise given that it's been all over, well, everything for months now. And just like the people making the replica's of her wedding ring or, well, everyone else I'm going to take advantage of the situation. But alas dear reader I must make my advantage yours...

Stay tuned to this blog or follow me on Twitter and Facebook (LakeAtLarge for both) for the announcement of a HUGE contest that will be running until Thursday this week. The goal will be to find out what you think would make for a better itinerary for the Royals - in full or in part. Personally I was unimpressed in dramatic fashion when their activity list was made and now it's in your hands, Calgary.

The prize will be as uplifting as it will be Royal. 

But without further ado here are a few things happening this week:

Tuesday (5th):

Cowboys Grand (Re?)Opening - Stampede tent on 12th Ave

Flo Rida and Classified will be brushing the dust off this Stampede institution. If they're not your style check out the other huge acts throughout the week. http://www.cowboysnightclub.com

Thursday (7th):

Calgary Art Walk - Stephen Ave

Before the cowboy hats take over come check out some amazing art and support a good cause as you take a leisurely stroll. Who are we kidding, the cowboy hats will be out and this is really your last chance to feign sophistication before the belligerence of Stampede takes over. Do it. www.artistsforthepoor.ca

Friday (8th):

If you don't know what's happening this day just stay under your rock. Don't forget to sneak-a-peek. I will be sampling all the new foods and letting you know what's worth trying!

Saturday (9th):

Turkish Festival - Eau Claire

Want to know what a whirling dervish is? Me too. Another celebration of local culture packed with all kinds of events to keep your attention and food galore (you might even find a Big Turk, ladies). Entrance is free. http://www.calgaryturkishfestival.com

Come back for details on the contest and to follow me as I experience my busiest (and likely craziest) Stampede ever.

Stay local, my friends


Royal Itinerary Contest

Tue, JUL 5 2011

By Chris Lake

What would get William to unbutton his jacket? Where could this newlywed couple find some quiet romance? Where could Will and Kate grab a bite?

Surely these two are not above "grabbing a bite"? Hmmm, yes, quite.

Answering these questions in a uniquely Calgary fashion could net you a prize of aeronautical proportions fit for a Prince and Princess. 

Kananaskis Heli Tours

Will and Kate are touted as the accessible royal couple - they are just regular people after all (regular people that own crowns).  However, their itinerary reveals a very different and typical story chocked full of official activities like laying wreaths, cutting ribbons and kissing babies (unscheduled). While it's obviously important to uphold the administrative airs that surround their lot in life one must also wonder when they get to have some fun?

Now, let's not get confused here. One can not take away the value of Kate tracing her family history or the significance of their visit to Slave Lake. Each stop on their itinerary is sure to have an impact, and an important one at that, but where are the activities that are truly Calgarian? Sure, they have a fake rodeo to go to and some environmental preservation displays to see at the zoo but if they are a down-to-earth royal couple, as is claimed, don't they want to see the monkey's too? Where is the fun, the excitement and the stuff that plain old regular non-crown wearing people like to do?

Tell me what you think the royal couple is missing out on - provide a fully revised itinerary or a single idea that you think would put Calgary on display while also letting them enjoy themselves and their time here.

The sky is your limit, and your prize.

The prize? A royal heli-date for two

The winner will receive a flight provided by Kananaskis Heli Tours (www.kheli.com) into the heart of Kananaskis country where you and your date will enjoy sparkling wine and hike areas unknown to human footsteps that are accessible only by chopper. 

I recently enjoyed a flight of my own with them that you will be able to read about tomorrow on my blog. It is truly an experience of a lifetime.

Perfect Picnic in the Rockies

The criteria

Adventures in Calgary writer, Chris Lake, will select the winner based on what he views to be the best expression of what Calgary is and how you would show it off. Creativity is a plus as is a unique point of view. If you do end up including old standby's like the zoo (and the monkey's) tell us how to enjoy them in a new way. The rest is up to you - there are no limits on how real or how extravagant you want to be.

The rules

The contest opens on Tuesday July 5th, 2011 at 4:30pm and closes on Thursday July 7th at 4:30pm. There is no limit to the number of entries per person. There is one grand prize to be awarded. Full contest rules can be found here.

How to enter

Submit entries via Twitter (@lakeatlarge), Facebook (Lakeatlarge) or through email (royalitinerarycontest@gmail.com). The winner will be contacted via their method of submission by July 8th at the latest.

The rest is up to you Calgary. Tell me what makes our city fit for a future king and queen... even if one of them is just a commoner.

Stay local, my friends. 

 


 

Strathmore rodeo a gay ol'time

Sun, JUL 3 2011

By Chris Lake

Like a kid at Christmas I just couldn't wait to kick off my 2011 Stampede experience - unofficial though it was.

This was the Canadian Rockies International Rodeo 2011. Or, depending on where you choose to place emphasis, the gay rodeo

Strathmore Rodeo

Actual gender representation not to scale...

I'm still not 100% clear on what I expected from this outing but I can definitely say that the gay rodeo was way less gay and way more rodeo than I thought. Don't get me wrong here, pride abounds as do the rainbows and short shorts but I think this event deserves to be viewed in a wider context than I imagine many give it credit for.

The Strathmore rodeo is a legitimate rodeo as much as it is a place for people to relax and enjoy a sunny day in an openly accepting atmosphere.

The grounds are full of vendors, games and food of all varieties. In fact, you don't need to go far to test your open-mindedness - one vendor sells mini-doughnuts and cotton candy alongside chicken stirfry. It seems to me that any place offering fare this differentiated would be run out of the city but I have to remember this is Strathmore. And a gay rodeo.

I'll have the cotton candy.

Rodeo goer

The food is typical midway fare but fresh fruit is a nice surprise - although, it's weird, I expected bananas...

The rodeo events highlight what most of us Calgarian land-lubbers take for granted - that the Stampede is the second biggest rodeo on earth. The quality here is not what most of us have come to expect but what it loses in that "bigtime" feel it gains back by not taking itself too seriously. Several events I had never seen before included pole bending (...tsk... typical), flag racing (where the rider picks up and moves flags at speed) and goat dressing (where two contestants are timed on how quickly they can get a pair of briefs on a goat. The winning team took 11.10 seconds - I can't even get my own underwear on that quickly...).

Strathmore Rodeo

Watching someone get thrown from a bucking animal is always a good time...

Strathmore Rodeo

Once they've been ridden many of the animals remain in the field while other contestants ride leading to several interesting interactions with the riders and the crowd who can get much closer than at the Stampede...

Strathmore Rodeo

Animal rights activists will be happy to know that there was plenty of human ass kicking happening too...

As it turns out the rodeo proved to be a great way to spend a day under the clear prairie sky. I can't say that the event is without its faults as the rodeo experiences many elongated lulls in the action and the grounds are relatively small but this is a viable option for getting out of the city and spending an afternoon. The other visitors are as interesting and entertaining as any of the pre-planned events which makes the gay rodeo a virtual grab bag of a laid back day in the sun. 

You never know what you're going to get but it's a sure bet that you'll have something to talk about when you get home.

Check out the ARGRA website for more info on what the gay rodeo is trying to achieve and for upcoming events.

Stay local, my friends.

P.S. I didn't stay for the nighttime parties but they are notoriously epic so check 'em out if that's your prerogative.

 


 

Wicked a jewel at Jubilee

Thu, JUN 30 2011

Wicked is just that.

The madly acclaimed musical has finally made its way to Calgary and the Southern Alberta Jubilee to delight Oz fans of all generations.

The play tells the story of how the Oz we know from the movie came to be. Why the wicked witch is so wicked, why the lion is cowardly, why the scarecrow is, well, a scarecrow. And it does it all in fascinating fashion.

TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images

TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images

Personally I wasn't too familiar with the original Wizard of Oz (like many I hadn't seen it since childhood) but no matter; I caught on quickly and the story came back.

The mechanical head that fronts the cloaked identity of the wizard was captivating, the lighting was stunning and the overall quality of the show was exactly what you'd expect from a Broadway-esque production.

Most surprising though is that, after watching a few trailers subsequent to seeing the show, I thought the two leads (the good witch and wicked witch) were better than those being advertised for the London show, for example. This is the quality you'd expect from a production of this size but the cast here is a cut above.

The only lull in the show comes in the second act, immediately following the intermission, where the energy level dies off a bit. Stay with it though as the show picks up steam and leads to an ending that will surprise you many times over.

A fantastic conclusion that is seamlessly overlapped with the movie itself will have you completely rethinking what you know about Oz. Wicked is clearly a must for any fan of the 1939 movie or anyone with even a faint interest in the theater. 

Get your tickets soon as it is expected to sell out and, once you have them, get to the Jubilee early - parking ($5) is plentiful but very tedious. More info can be found here.

Stay local, my friends.

P.S. did you know... in the original film, Ray Bolger was cast to play the Tin man but insisted on taking the part of the scarecrow. Buddy Ebsen was subsequently chosen to play the tin man and after inhaling significant quantities of aluminum dust (which was present in the silver make-up) he had a severe allergic reaction, stopped breathing and had to be pulled out of the movie entirely. Jack Haley quickly replaced Ebsen but was never told what happened to the previous cast member.

 

 


 

FOONYAP is one of Calgary's most engaging musicians

Wed, JUN 29 2011

By Chris Lake 

Mesmerized by the swirling loops of the violin reverberating off the walls of the Ironwood the most unlikely sound awakens you from your trance and sends a tingle down your spine.

From the petite frame of Calgary's own FOONYAP, standing alone on stage, comes what can only be described as a wail so filled with emotion that it simply overwhelms the innocence of the violin in her hand. The shrill rebel yell pours forth from what feels like the depths of the singer's soul.

What's more, FOONYAP is a small orchestra unto herself. Not unlike Dan the One Man bad sans the kitsch, golden oldies and drum strapped behind (and, in fact, pretty much everything else about Dan) she is in complete control of her craft as she records loop after loop of fascinating violin and guitar licks to create a multidimensional sound that is, to the ear, much larger than she.

FOONYAP

Seeing FOONYAP live adds additional depth to her sound as you watch her methodically create layers of music that overlap and intertwine with her voice. It is as though you are watching an artist lay down strokes of paint on canvas with the true shape of the final product not revealed until the final stroke of the brush.

The final product can only be described as otherworldly.

And Foon is no stranger to otherworldly. Although she was (and still is) a member of Woodpigeon, a well-known local band, I first experienced her as part of Foonyap & the Roar which combines the above description with a heavy dose of surrealism. I dare not try to describe Vampire Mode myself but watch the video below to hear it from Foon herself (and for some samples of the show):

Foonyap is one of the most wildly talented and expressive artists I have ever seen. Her sound is absolutely her own and, in my opinion, it makes her the most diversely talented and unique artist in Calgary.

Reader beware the distinct difference between FOONYAP and Foonyap & the Roar when planning to see her.

The latter is a niche expression of pure unadulterated music expression that may turn some squeamish crowds off (keep it mind that it was fascinating enough to make me want more) while the latter is unique enough that I put it forth as something never before seen in our city and probably the world. FOONYAP is a must see.

Check out her myspace page here for upcoming show information.

Stay local, my friends.

P.S. I would never claim to know much about the music scene which is probably why I hadn't heard of Kris Ellestad who opened the show. Not many people tuck their T-shirts into their pants anymore, like Kris does, but most people don't sing like this, either! Some excellent folk music you'll be hearing more about when I cover him at Folk Fest. 

 


 

Calgary events precap for the week of June 27th 

Mon, JUN 27 2011

By Chris Lake 

I am a horrible citizen. In all my excitement about the stampede I almost forgot our nation's birthday. I haven't even gotten a card yet and of course the postal workers are back to work on Tuesday so there goes that excuse.

Who would you send a card to anyway? Stephen? The estate of John Cabot?

Would you have to include a small token of your appreciation? Like a gift card to Timmie's or a cheque for seven dollars and thirty cents like grandma always sends?

In any event, I wanted to start a weekly hit list of cool and notable things happening in the city. It can be a bit overwhelming trying to scour the event listings and even harder to pick that one new thing you might want to try. Hopefully this list can serve as a jump off point so come back each Monday to see what I've found.

I also don't want to overwhelm you with potentially useless info so I'm assuming that if you found my blog that you can also find Google...

Tuesday (28th):

FOONYAP & Kris Ellestad - Ironwood Stage & Grill

Of former Woodpigeon glory, FOONYAP is a music genre all her own - her website calls her "snow white on an acid trip." Do you need more encouragement? I'll be there.

Wednesday (29th):

Banjo Bill is hosting an open mic with Jane Moran - Swans of Inglewood

Honestly, no idea what this is but the man's name is Banjo Bill and that's awesome where I come from.

Wicked - Jubilee Auditorium (runs through July 17th)

An international smash hit prequel to the Wizard of Oz - This is supposed to be Broadway quality, people. I hope to be there.

Friday (1st):

Canada Day festivities - All over town

Check out the city's website for the major events happening at Prince's Island, Heritage Park and Fort Calgary (hint: Dan the One Man Band is playing - you know where I'll be!). Don't forget about the Stamps/Argos game.

General Buzz:

More than anywhere else I've had the restaurant NOtaBLE (not to be confused with No Table, which might be the case based on its popularity) recommended to me - hopefully I can check this out soon. Boogie's Burgers also sounds unreal - anyone wanna take me?
I'm endeavoring to keep this list at a few key things but hey, I'm only one man, tell me what I missed. What other worthwhile things are happening this week?

Stay local, my friends.

 


 

Stage West a mainstay in a booming arts scene

Sat, JUN 25 2011 

Where the hell have I been for the last decade? The arts scene in Calgary used to be terrible. Then again we also used to vote for our mayor based on no more than a name that subversively implied action, like Al Duerr, or one that vainly tried to legitimize our cowboy culture, like Bronco.

Now we just vote for someone that knows what they're doing.

I guess my point is that things change.This week alone I've managed to see Rihanna live at the 'Dome, sample some of the best up-and-comers at a premiere music festival and, most recently, watched a play that has headlined in over 100 cities throughout North America.

Don't Hug Me is now more than a valuable instruction to strangers (and family?), it is also the latest Stage West production.

Based on some goofy playbill art and the director's description of the play as "campy" I didn't go in with high expectations but, in its 186th show, Stage West demonstrated why it's been such a longstanding entity in our arts scene.

The play begins with a classic battle likely familiar to many of us - a couple arguing about staying where they are and living with the realities of cold weather on clientele and water bra's versus giving it all up and moving to Florida. We soon meet Aarvid Gissleson, a fast talking salesman with all the answers played by David Leyshon (of several other local plays) who steals the show. General merriment ensues as he attempts to bring one couple together in the name of a sale and tear another apart in the name of love.

Stage West

From where I sat the play avoids the one thing that often plagues these kind of productions - it never seems to try to hard for a joke or a line. It brings you into the story quickly and keeps you there for the duration.

Oh and did I mention the buffet prior to curtain? One of the biggest I've seen and simply delicious. The night was totally worth it before the show began.

Ok, so tickets in the $90 range are a bit steep (prices come way down with a season pass - I recommend splitting in with some friends) but to put it in perspective I did a $70 buffet in Vegas, billed as the best one there, and this was comparable (the facility is certainly better here!). They claim a 120 item smorgasbord of choices and when you think about it that's only $0.75 an item and you get a hit Broadway-esque production to watch while you digest. The show's basically free then, right?

Stage West's Don't Hug Me is a great option for a once-in-awhile night out and is a good way to get classy, get stuffed and have a bit of a belly laugh. See their website for showtimes and upcoming productions.

If you've tried the rest it might be time to try Stage West.

Stay local, my friends.

P.S. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this show so what else have I been missing out on? What are the other must see plays and shows in the city?

 


 

Sled Island puts music scene on display 

Thu, JUN 23, 2011

By Chris Lake 

Here's a question - do you really love what's coming out on the radio these days?

I'm not talking about the new Up! Radio stations British host that sounds like Russell Brand, ladies.

I'm talking about music.

(Oh and FYI - He's just upping the volume on normal conversation to a moderate yell. British accents are so unfair...)

Lately I've been more intrigued than I would normally expect to be about this "Sled Island" festival thingy that's taking over the town. I'm no music writer and nor would I like to be but I came across something interesting while taking in a few of the opening acts this year.

For me the radio is a tedious exercise in commercials and replays and even after subscribing to satellite radio I haven't been able to get a handle on much new music. Like most things in my life I also lack the time and motivation to seek out giant playlists of all the hottest music like I did when I was 16.

However, Sled Island seems to have a solid mix of real music that I never heard before and therein lies the value in an event of this kind - the propensity to hear something new and unique is huge.

Sled Island Music & Arts Festival

The best part is, from what I've seen, the quality is high for a group of up-and-coming bands. This isn't an indie band event on par with an elementary school recital, this is the real deal.

Take for example Dinosaur Feathers, a group of unassuming guys from Brooklyn who came out with a polished rock and pop sound with a hint of experimentalism. Even though I know nothing about them they sounded to me like they were good enough for the storied "Big Time" and the biggest catch of all was that they sounded fresh!

Another great aspect of events like these is when talented musicians separate from their usual groups as was the case with Chali 2na, a hip hop artist from Chicago. Playing at the downtown Legion didn't seem to suit the style of music - I kept looking over at the 75ish year old woman clearing beer bottles off the tables to see if she's join in with a "hell yeah" - but the crowd took no heed and the energy quickly became palpable. He may have even won over some new fans waiting for Man Man, the next band band on the schedule.

Man Man

Man Man. These guys look like a good time. Catch them next at the Distillery on Thursday.

I found two new faves tonight and can't wait to see what else the Sled (we're on a first name basis now) has in store for me as it explodes across the downtown this week. Some of the people I was with were even saying that the event has the potential to become the biggest of its kind on Canada in the next few years and I think that's pretty cool.

The next NXNW, if you will (if you didn't get that reference don't worry, I wouldn't have before tonight either).

Stay local, my friends.

P.S.  If you're anything like me (and I hope you're not) you may be a little daunted by the sheer number of acts this year. Thankfully I was hanging out with a collection of music writers and experts from across Canada and here's who they were talking about: Man Man, Dum Dum Girls, Braids, Justin Townes Earle, Library Voices, Alejandro Escovedo and/or Hunter Gatherer. Personally I was excited to see Samantha Savage Smith on Thursday at the Ironwood but it doesn't look like I'll be there in time to get in - let me know how it goes if you're there.

 


 

Urban parks get you out of the city 

Wed, JUN 22 2011

By Chris Lake 

A trip to New York is simply not complete without a visit to beautiful Central Park. In a thriving city that leaves little reminder of the nature beyond its concrete and glass walls the park serves as a relaxing oasis of lush greenery that gives one space from the hectic pace of life there. And, if you ever talk to a New Yorker, the giant 3.4 square kilometer rectangle of a park is most certainly a point of pride.

That is why I am so glad to point out to visitors that Fish Creek Park is 19 square kilometers of largely untouched nature. And that, as they say, is just the tip of the parksberg.

Recently, I spent a sunny day exploring three of Calgary's parks from North to South and reacquainted myself with what many people here seem to forget - you can easily spare yourself the hour long drive to the mountains to get out of the city.

Relax on a park bench

This guy's got the right idea!

Edworthy Park and the Douglas Fir Trail

Well known and a hotspot in the North, Edworthy is a park of choice for its numerous paths that connect it with the rest of the city and the "getaway" paths that seemed to elude most of the revelers on the day we visited.

Our hike of choice on the Douglas Fir Trail was nearly deserted. The signage from the parking lot made it easy to find but it seemed that other park patrons were too busy with Frisbee or the playgrounds to pay much attention to the trek through the towering Fir and Spruce trees.

Park Map

It was a wonderful escape in the middle of town and took around 30 minutes. Note that there are plenty of stairs and it gets a bit muddy after the rain. Don't forget to shake hands with the trees (inside joke - walk the path to be included).

A couple hours touring the area definitely primes one to hit what I discovered to be a bit of a Calgary legend, Angel's Cappuccino & Ice Cream Café. The heavenly themed menu sports lots of tasty options but those who haven't been in awhile should note that milkshakes are no longer an option - this seemed to confound the decade old memories of several former frequenters.

Central Memorial Park and Giuseppe's Italian Market

Next and on a whim I decided to challenge the city core. I parked on a random street and quickly found myself inside Giuseppe's Italian Market sipping on a delicious Italian Latte and learning all about the 3 year old establishment from Kevin, the extremely helpful and informative nephew of one of the owners.

Inside its one large location on 12th Ave and 1st Street, Giuseppe's boasts a café, restaurant, market, lunch and dinner takeout counter along with plenty of other surprises. I loved that the market goods were priced on a good, better, best basis making trying something new on a budget easy. I'm definitely coming back to buy fresh pasta and to try the pizza cooked in an authentic wood oven.

Nice place but I had nowhere in particular to go so I thought it best to get a move on.

Walking aimlessly reminded me of a trip to Bangkok where I got lost in a smoggy, industrial part of the city that seemed to be in a constant state of rush hour. After three hours of slogging through back streets and gutters a white temple gate opened in front of me as a beautifully unexpected and much needed reprieve from the hot and oppressive streets outside.

My journey here was much the same except for the smoggy and busy streets - I passed one person (who issued a polite "hello") and had two cars stop for me on the short walk before discovering Central Memorial Park at 12th Ave and 2nd Street. But, just like the temple in the Asian megalopolis, this park opened in front of me as a beacon of peace from the busy city beyond.

Central Memorial Park

Flowers and fountains coexist peacefully in this example of a perfect urban escape. The sound of the water splashing back to the ground completely wiped out the subtle hum of daily life and transported me out of my cityscape mindset. While small, at one square block this park should be a highlight for any downtown office worker - If you haven't been I urge you to get out of your tower in the middle of the afternoon and take a stroll.

Calgary Public Library

Tulips grow in full force in front of the historic Calgary Public Library building that borders the Western edge of Central Memorial Park

Fish Creek Park & Annie's Bakery & Café

There is no way to do Fish Creek any justice in a single day so don't even try. Instead, relax and start in the SE corner with a Nanaimo bar from Annie's, located in the park just beyond the parking lot at the end of Bow Trail.

From there all you have to do is follow your instinct and you may end up at Sikome Lake or simply traversing Fish Creek's common tree lined paths bordered by the river and capacious fields of grasses and flowers. 

Fish Creek Park

Wildlife here is also a major highlight and the variety of ecosystems encapsulated by the park oft-contain great blue herons, porcupines, beavers, several types of deer and even a bald eagle or two, if you're lucky.

Three parks down and thousands to go

Calgary, as far as I've seen, is one of North America's premiere spots for incorporating green spaces into its urban sprawl. Yes traffic is bad and yes there are a lot of people milling around but there is a ton of opportunity to step back into nature to get active or just rebalance yourself.

Sure, the mountains are great but I just found a spare 30 minutes before my next meeting and I know exactly where I'm going to spend them.
Stay local, my friends.

P.S. Check out this link for a list of Calgary's top 10 public spaces

 


 

Top blogger to welcome summer this week

Tue, JUN 21, 2011 

By Chris Lake

OK, it's time to come clean, I'm a germophobe. I think this fact played into my initial excitement when offered an opportunity to see the latest StageWest offering called Don't Hug Me. I won't, don't worry. 

June 23rd is opening night and you'll find me there inspecting the sneeze guard on what sounds like an incredible buffet and hopefully enjoying what is billed to be a hilarious 'musical comedy'. I'll let you know how it goes later on this week and if this sounds like your cup of tea check out the StageWest website for more info.

Also, if you haven't bothered to check the forecast it would appear that summer is upon us and I'm going to be taking full advantage. 

Olympic Plaza

By day I'll be hitting up some hot-day hotspots and by night I'll be taking in some incredible music at what has become one of North America's premiere music festivals, Sled Island. There's some seriously good and relatively unknown talent playing at venues across the city which make it a great excuse to get out and discover a new pub and a new band. Now I just need to figure out why it's called Sled Island.

In the meantime, where should I go on my sunny day bonanza this Thursday? Tell me where you spend a summer's day or, better yet, call in sick (because you probably are), grab some wetnaps, get outside and...

Stay local, my friends.

Make sure you're following LakeatLarge on Facebook and Twitter for more info that never hits the blog like my coffee disloyalty program showdown and the real-time goods on what you should be doing instead of reading Twitter and Facebook messages in the office (Hint: the answer will never be work).

 


 

Greekfest: Sneak-a-Greek this weekend 

Sat, JUN 18, 2011

By Chris Lake 

Greekfest has been putting the 'opoulos into our metropolis for 13 years running and this year should be no departure from the celebration of Canadian/Greek culture that it has always been.

Greekfest

In my opinion there is only one way to start Greeking out - forget about your breath. All the traditional fare is here in all its onion and garlic glory and our choices included spanakopita ($5.50) and the lamb shank meal ($17 - most expensive item, most in the $6 range). Since I don't usually care too much for spanakopita I was glad for the starch component of the lamb meal which I used to create a new Greek/Canadian fusion dish called spanakopotato. 

Lamb Meal

Spanakopita

Dessert was also a predictable highlight. Back in my downtown days I frequented the Falafel King on 8th beside Flames Central (highly recommended for lunch!) and would spend 15 minutes working through a huge chicken shawarma just to get to the small piece of Baklava that's included with each order. For that reason I was totally willing to part with my $3.50 for a big piece of the honey dipped pastry. A nice surprise was the "Diples" dessert (also $3.50) which is a piece of dough that has been twisted, fried and dipped in honey. Call it a cousin to baklavian joy.

I wrapped it all up (seriously, food is this much of a highlight) with a Greek coffee ($3.50), a potent and old school style drink that is made cup by cup. I was lucky enough to have a chat with Goni, a first generation Greek Canadian, who puts on a quite show at the back of the drink tent. Boiling her water and mixing the flour-textured coffee grounds on a burner that is quintessentially "old country" she formulates her concoction and pours it into styrofoam cups with confidence and panache.

Goni

Goni told me that two years ago she mixed 2200 cups and last year that number dropped to 1850 - I don't have the attendance numbers but I'd guess it's because many people were still buzzing from the previous year. Order the medium (the three options available refer to sweetness, not size) unless you value a sugar high more than a caffeine hit.

It's always fun to partake in the other uniquely Greek activities available including listening to the musical stylings of Opa-Opa, a band brought in from Toronto, and dancing on the large open floor alongside the Pegasus dance troop who are happy to teach. Kids, parents and revelers of all types got up to try several traditional dances. Parents could also drop their kids off at one of three available bouncy castles, go grab a beer ($5) and stroll the vendors or soak up the atmosphere. It's a good way to spend an hour or two and is mostly tented so the weather isn't much of a factor.

Admission is $5, parking is relatively plentiful and free and the location is easy to get to (right off Bow trail - 1 Tamarac Crescent). Check out the festival schedule at  http://calgaryhellenic.com/.

Stay local, my friends. 

 


 

Be disloyal to your favorite coffee joint 

Fri, JUN 17 2011

By Chris Lake  

YYC Coffee Disloyalty

Enjoyed what I consider to be the best coffee in Calgary today at Cafe Beano on 17th Ave and 9th Street where I came across an interesting challenge. Beano and nine other local and independent cafes participate in the "Be Disloyal" program which encourages clients to get out and sample the competition. Pick up a card at any involved cafe, enjoy a drink at 7 of them and the 8th drink is free at your original location.

Start getting familiar with Calgary's coffee culture by checking out yycdisloyalty.com.

It's become clear to me that there's a big difference between getting your fix and enjoying a coffee - Do you have a favorite shop or do you simply prefer the consistency and accessibility of the chains? What purveyors of percolated pick-me-up aren't listed but are worth checking out (like my former favorite - Cafe Artigiano)?

Stay local, my friends.


Craft Beer Market: Beer and conversation coexist at last

Tue, JUNE 16, 2011

By Chris Lake 

Serving over 100 beers is great but on the night of a game 7 Stanley Cup final hockey game the drink menu can prove to be a bit distracting (I missed the Bruins first goal but Luongo didn't keep me waiting long for more). On the other hand, the advantage to selling such an abundance of barley-based bubbly is that the sorrow drowning substance was available aplenty for disappointed Canucks fans - I am happy to report that there were no riots outside of the brand new Craft Beer Market restaurant+pub on this night.

Located in the former Mother Tucker's space on 10th Avenue SW and 3rd street, Craft is an expansive and well-situated place to grab a beer or two. Neatly placed in the middle of what I call the "parking capital of Calgary" it takes little more than an aimless cruise down 10th to find spaces aplenty (finding a stall after 6pm will save you a few bucks). The interior has a vintage feel and you have to give credit to a place designed with sustainability in mind – many of the previous tenants wood surfaces were reclaimed and to nice effect.

 On this night they were running 150 kegs out of a maximum capacity of 230 and I was able to sample several beers I had never tried before (see list below). Shawn, the Operational Director, took me on a tour of the glass encased keg room from which 5 miles of line run malt to mouth via Calgary’s largest oval bar.

Beer Taps

Given Craft’s restaurant+pub status, it is equally up to the challenge of washing your beer down with some food. Despite an excessive wait time to get our order (which might be attributed to its pre-opening day status) the food was generally good. The Fast Food Sushi ($11) seemed like a good idea at the time and is a solid novelty food option but the nachos ($18) stood out with what seemed like above average quality cheese and (FINALLY) jalapeño’s that were actually hot.

The Prosciutto and arugula pizza ($13) is up there with the best in the city. I say no more.
My favorite part? Craft is a classy downtown hangout without a hint of being presumptuous and is a place where you could actually converse with the people you came with. There’s a hint here folks: you may need communication skills that exceed nodding at one another all night.

Although, if I was to pick one reason to go back it would be to sample the Chocolate Bunny American Stout that Shawn promises will be in next week. Check out craftbeermarket.ca for more information on everything including some pretty unique weekly specials.
Wow, I made it through an entire blog about a beer joint named Craft without making a crack about bedazzling or scrapbooking while inebriated… I think I deserve a beer.

Cheers.

Stay local, my friends. 
P.S. Looking for a good starting point with the gigantic beer menu? Here's what I tried:

1. St. Bernardus ABT 12 - $9.05 - Thought it would come as something I could tar my roof with but is easy drinking for a strong dark
2. Mill Street Lemon Tea Beer - $7.15 - Seriously, this exists
3. Boddington’s Pub Ale - $9.05 - Creamiest beer around
4. La Trappe Tripel - $9.05 - Bittersweet and fruity, drink with your pinky out
5. Granville Island Kitsilano Maple Cream Ale - $7.15 – A solid any-occasion beer especially if the occasion is having a couple of beers

For the traditional beer drinker most regular ol’ domestics are $5.95 and for the person who hates beer try the lemon tea beer above or the Unibroue Blanche de Chambly (it tastes like flowers). Cocktails and the usual assortment of other drinks are available too.


What is your secret to making the most of Calgary?

Wed, JUN 15 2011

By Chris Lake 

Well, it's time to turn it over to you folks. Looking at my watch I can see that I've been blogging here for just over 24 hours and it's high time I took a break and let my audience do some of the work for me.

I said in my last post that I wanted to seek out the hidden gems, the things that keep this city interesting and vibrant. So, what is your favorite part of Calgary? Do you have a little offbeat hangout? A favorite local underground band? A breakfast joint that somehow scrambles an egg better than the rest? Or how about something more topical - What do you do on a rainy day?

Share your innermost city secrets with me and let me know how you make the most of living here. 

In the meantime, I've got some really cool stuff happening this week and you'll be hearing from me again soon. Don't forget to come back regularly too as I explore and reveal what other readers know that you don't.

Stay local, my friends.

P.S. Send me your responses via the comments section or find me, LakeatLarge, on Twitter and Facebook to share your thoughts.


Where in the world is Calgary/Banff?

Tue, JUN 14 2011 

By Chris Lake

Westjet

Calgary is part of a very beautiful relationship. But it's time for a divorce.

I have travelled throughout North America and the globe and, without fail, I always return to "Calgary/Banff". Hundreds of departure boards in airports worldwide put our mutually beneficial affiliation on display for all to see, but let me say this - we are interesting, we are vibrant, we are more than 10 days, we are more than a boomtown - We are "Calgary" and we are a standalone destination.

I think it's high time Banff worked to get its own spot on the departure boards. After all, getting a new runway should be a fairly straightforward process for them, no?

My mission as your blogger will be to show you, loyal denizens and would-be guests alike, what makes Calgary an 'it' spot. I'll show you what to see and do, where to eat, where to grab a drink, where to take clients, where to take your friends, family and kids.

The Zoo, the Tower, C.O.P. - the typical things one associates with the city are still there and over the past decade many have reinvented themselves. I'll be letting you know if it's worth going back and why. Even more interesting to me though? Finding the little hidden gems that you never knew existed and that just make life more interesting.

I want to uncover the greasy spoon, indie, emerging underbelly and the luxurious fat cat potbelly that both come with our success. I want to show you how people live here and why people live here. A lot of us complain about what we've given up with the growth of our city (Customer service, anyone?) but here's a thought - that growth now gives us the scale to support larger communities with more diverse interests. If you're anything like me you've been too caught up to keep up with the cultural boom that's happening here - it's time to get hip to the fact that we've got a lot going on.

To close this inaugural post, it took a village to allow me the chance to rediscover my city. A huge thanks to all who got me here, I am very grateful for this opportunity and I hope to pay you back by enriching your stay in our city. I am honored to have been selected from a field of such talented competitors - it could have been any of us.

Listen, Banff, I think you're great. You've got a lot going for you and I mean it when I say we should stay friends. It's just... time to move on.

Stay local, my friends.

P.S. Follow 'LakeatLarge' on Facebook and Twitter for the real-time goods on what I'm up to and to voice your opinion on what you think I need to experience and share. Also, make sure you sign up for blog updates via email in the Email Notifications section on the right side of this page!


Meet the Winner: Calgary's next top travel blogger

By David Blackwell

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