Hitched up in Calgary

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Flag of Canada  , Alberta,
Thursday, September 20, 2007

As you may know, we need to tread water here for a while before we travel "real south". Hopefully we will move on before the snows come:) it's already chilly at night, with frosts in the mornings and flurries blew across the city today!!
This week we have been exploring Calgary www.tourismcalgary.com and its environs. We have been camped to the north of the city (see map) and have taken the highway 2 (Deerfoot Trail) into the city with several hundred others. Calgary lies east of the Rockies where the land begins to flatten before it becomes the endless Prairies.

As we mentioned before it is undergoing continual revival, the changing skyline punctuated by cranes at every turn.

Ambitious plans include the Bow building, designed by Foster of Gherkin fame, which will soar to 58 stories to become the tallest building outside Toronto and include 3 sky gardens. To be fair though, It does have some beautiful old buildings left, along the popular Stephen's Walk. Like many other major cities it has its cultural enclaves too, we spent an interesting afternoon in Chinatown, visiting its cultural centre. Fascinating wares in the many intriguing shops made for an interesting few hours. Malc did his best to make the water shudder in the "Bronze Singing Fish Basin" and succeeded in making waves!

Discovering hidden gems is all part of the magic of traveling and finding enchanting gardens enclosed at the top of a shopping mall was a pleasant surprise. Incidentally did I mention the walkways? You can walk for miles in Calgary's enclosed walkways, (known as +15 because its 15' up) that link all the main shopping areas, offices etc. Can you imagine that - going shopping and never getting wet or cold, never having to worry about the snow outside! Cool eh? Anyway, back to the Devonian gardens; this idyllic spot sits peacefully on the 4th floor above the hustle and bustle of city life below. With sunlight pouring through the atrium roof we strolled amongst marvelous specimens, many we recognized as modest house plants we have at home. The hanging baskets we found suspended over the pool were just beautiful, wonder if they replant them each year Nita?

One place we visited twice was one of the Farmers markets, firstly with Mum and then again this w/e. What a veritable treasure house - this really is a proper farmers market!!

From the huge crates filled with apples, pears, peaches, cabbages and any other fruit or veg. you care to think of, to the small stalls manned by families from small farming colonies. Men, women and children from these, dressed alike, politely offering tastes of the most delicious, juicy, fresh sweet corn picked just the day before, home made honey or pickles. There is something very special about a small boy of about six, immaculately turned out from the top of his black felt hat to the tip of his shiny shoes, holding out a bunch of carrots or onions or whatever, looking up at you offering his wares. Who could resist? When we went the first time, we were going to board the train the next day, so it was useless buying anything, but this Saturday we went back and stocked up. The peaches and cream sweet corn is the best, sweetest weˇ¦ve had since Nova Scotia, and the Bartlett pears (I always thought that was a name like Del Monte!) are out of this world. Fruit is sold in "flats" which is a tray to us I suppose, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries sold in punnets about twice the size of ours but at the same price! It was really difficult not to buy loads; there are only two of us after all.

Wandering round was a real education, I'd never seen fresh quince before, but now know that you can preserve it, use it as a thickening agent or use it as a deodorizer in the house! Buckets of Dill flowers stood like weeds, beside the small cucumbers they would later be pickled with. Intriguing plump tiger eggs which in actual fact are a cross between a plum and an apricot were piled high. Squashes of every shape, size and colour sat like silent little space ships.
Cabbages about the size of a large pumpkin, waited to be made into sauerkraut. Chilies, from mild to blow your head off, lay nonchalantly tempting the uninitiated to buy and try. Inside the market you could lunch on Ukrainian, Turkish, Italian fayre and many others. It was a great morning.

Having only seen the one lonely bear on our travels, we decided to visit the zoo where we hoped to see other native animals. Weˇ¦re not really fans of zoos, but we were pleasantly surprised at the size of the enclosures and the general condition of the residents. The imaginative layout means the visitor is encouraged to crawl and climb in order to get the best views.

Some of the more interesting inhabitants included a condor, which was determined not to let us see the turkey neck he was snacking on, he ran up and down at speed trying to avoid our cameras. The owl who sat hidden among the trees was finally spotted because of his piercing eyes that seemed to reach into your soul. Eerie!

The elk, sitting like bookends on a sunny afternoon looked peaceful.

The next day whilst on our way to the Hot Springs in Banff, we encountered another elk - it was huge - it was close - it was unexpected! There we were slowly driving up a hill, when this animal stepped abruptly out of the bushes about a yard in front of us. Thankfully he paused and Malc swerved, so he crossed the road behind us. He and Toad unscathed we caught our breath allowed our blood pressure to stabilize and continued on our way. The springs by the way were rather disappointing. Filled with tap water because of drought (according to Lonely Planet) and looking like any other swimming pool, we gave it a miss. Banff itself was very busy - those coach tours again :) compounded by the fact that it is being "refreshed" ie. Road up, new pavements etc. it was a bit like Bournemouth on a Sat afternoon, about the same number of "Brits" too. We escaped via a trail just outside town that took us high above the Bow Valley (the Bow flows all the way from the Rockies and thru Calgary) here we could see the "hoodoos" rock formations carved by the river and winds over thousands of years.

Staying here in Calgary after mum left has enabled us to catch up on things rather than rushing off to the next port of call straight away. Obviously it's given us chance to sort out this new "Facebook" blog, we hope you like the format.

Just as in life anywhere, every now and then we have to cope with a bit of a "swerve ball". Poor old toad ended up protesting quite noisily on the way back from Banff - turned out to be a wheel bearing not bearing up very well.
The good old internet provided us with a Subaru forum site that recommended a garage for repairs near Calgary. We contacted them but they couldn't book us in for the work until Thursday. We ended up stranded at the campsite for two days!
However I must commend the service offered by Shiraz and Din at the "Allmakes Auto Repairs". We took toad in (noisily) and Din set off to test drive, returning to confirm the diagnosis. However we were just one in a line of vehicles to be looked at that day. Seeing the look on our faces - what to do for a day on an industrial trading estate? Shiraz arranged for us to be given a lift round to a shopping mall close by that was also next to the downtown Calgary c-train station.
By 2:30 pm toad was fixed. We had gone into town so, returning on the c-train Din picked us up at the station and returned us to the garage so we could pay the bill :) and go on our way. Thanks again to all at Allmakes.
On our two days out we also got a small chip in the windscreen fixed - they came out to us :). You know we just don't think you get this service back at home. The fridge freezer here in Bree was actually on a safety recall from the manufacturers so we arranged for the work to be done by an RV centre literally just down the road from our campsite - another place to recommend - Bucars RV centre: http://www.bucarsrv.com/

Hey - the sun's still shining :) - move on tomorrow.
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