Out and about in Calgary

This entry is part 2 of 11 in the series Canadian Rockies

We awoke in to find the morning was bright, clear and quickly warming up. The evening before we’d been placed high up on the 13th floor of the Sandman Hotel in Calgary but sadly the view from the room was mostly of other tall buildings. The hotel location though turned out to be a brilliant as it was on 7th Avenue and just across the road from the 8th Street CTrain stop. The CTrain light rail system services all of the downtown area of Calgary, (as well as the suburbs), but even more happily was free to ride in the central district that we’d need it for. But more on that later; breakfast first!

This 2-story high sculpture of a girl’s head is called “Wonderland” and is by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa.

Personally I’m not keen on going to the hotel restaurants unless absolutely necessary as it always feels a bit of a cop-out – I think that by going elsewhere you’re more likely to have a bit more of a local experience, unless you keep going to McDonalds of course. Also with a name like “Moxies Bar and Grill”, our hotel restaurant didn’t really have a very breakfasty ring to it, even though they claimed to open at 6am. So I did what I usually do and looked on the internet. It quickly came up with Nellies Break The Fast Cafe, which did sound more appealing and was just a block away. We crossed the train tracks and headed over there. Turned out to be quite a good call with cheaper prices, huge portions and very fast service. Well worth taking the effort to discover.

From Nellies we walked back to the 8th Street CTrain stop (remembering they run on the ‘wrong’ side of the rails to the UK) and waited ooh, all of two minutes before a train arrived. Five minutes or so ride saw us alighting outside the Hyatt Regency at the Centre Street stop and strolling a block south to Stephen Avenue, which is also called 7th Avenue. It might be useful to note here is that Avenues run east-west and Streets run north-south. A slight complication is added with the Streets being numbered counting upwards from either side of Centre Street, with 1st Street West being one block west and 1st Street East one block east. Avenues likewise are numbered starting at the Bow River which bisects Calgary roughly east to west. The avenue nearest the river on the south bank is 1st Avenue South, whilst 1st Avenue North is obviously(!) on the north bank. So our hotel is actually on the intersection of 8th Avenue S and 8th Street W.

Stephen Avenue, Calgary.

Anyway geography aside, visiting Stephen Avenue Walk is one of Tripadvisor’s ‘must do’ things in Calgary. The list is admittedly quite short, but then we have all been spoiled by the likes of London and Paris, which could both keep you busy for weeks. But I digress again; Stephen Avenue Walk is a pedestrianised street running for several blocks through the heart of downtown Calgary. At the far end it is bounded by the Glenbow Museum, the Olympic Plaza and the City Hall, whilst the end nearest our hotel sort of peters out somewhere around 3rd or 4th Street in a shopping mall. During the daytime there are many, many stalls along the street, which is bounded by some of the oldest buildings in Calgary (not that old then). It was pleasant enough to stroll in the morning sunshine. Our first indoor port of call was Hudson’s Bay, a large Canadian department store. Now that was a shock. Yes we knew the pound wasn’t that valuable and upmarket department stores are rarely cheap, but the prices were just ouch. Everything was probably 1.5x or 2x dearer than in the UK for exactly the same thing. There was absolutely nothing you would buy unless you needed it desperately. So quitting the store we continued our amble along the Avenue, looking in the shop windows and at the stalls. Price-wise the story was the same, pretty much everywhere, so roughly where the pedestrianisation ran out, we turned round and ambled back.

“The Conversation” by William McElcheran – sadly I just missed this guy talking on his phone by about 1 second.

After our trip down to the less interesting end of the walk and back, we were looking for a late morning coffee. Unfortunately everywhere seemed to be either a posh restaurant, a bar, or not yet open. Eventually we settled on a way-too-posh restaurant on the ground floor of in the same building as Hudson’s Bay. They were a bit taken aback to be asked for coffee only, but hey the customer is king so they served us and we sat back under their awning and watched the world go by for a bit.

Olympic Plaza, Calgary

Continuing the walk in the opposite direction we reached the Glenbow Museum and the Olympic Park. This area was quite busy, especially the museum because there was some sort of children’s activity day going on, with occasional buses of kids arriving and whole classrooms picnicking on the grassy bits of the park.

Calgary Tower as seen from the Olympic Plaza

We didn’t fancy the museum anyway as it was a nice day outside, so a walk round the park was in order followed by an amble back down Stephen Ave to Original Joes restaurant for a spot of slightly late lunch. After entirely inappropriate amounts of food had been eaten, it was away to the free CTrain (from 1st St back to 7th St) and the hotel for a cup of tea and wait for the day to cool down a bit – temps were in the mid-to-late 20’s and starting to get a little uncomfortable for walking.

This statue is of Henrietta Muir Edwards (1849 – 1931) one of the “Famous Five” next to Olympic Plaza, and all of whom campaigned for women’s rights.

Once the day has cooled a little we headed back out walking towards the Bow River and Eau Clare Park. The river itself is quite substantial and fast flowing, whilst the park is fairly dusty and uninteresting. It includes a footbridge over the river, the Peace Bridge, with a somewhat futuristic semi-enclosed design. I don’t think the bridge has weathered that well, giving a slightly rundown air. There were a few dropouts and winos in the park as well, lounging around and talking entirely too loudly, but they didn’t give any trouble or try and beg. We were in the part about the same time as the rush hour was starting – you could see the roads were choked with traffic – and the park acted as a thoroughfare for many, many cyclists and runners on their daily commute. After some sitting and watching, we headed back and called at Tim Horton’s for a very light tea.

The Peace Bridge over the Bow River, Eau Claire Park, Calgary.

Now Tim Horton’s, if you don’t know, is a very popular Canadian institution and their answer to Starbucks and the like. Knowing this, it would be rude not to give them a try. I am not sure what other TH’s are like, but the one we had chosen was not too impressive. It felt very downmarket compared to Starbucks (whom I have no admiration for) and the clientele were as dowdy as the cafe. Signs were up warning us not to loiter, which gave us an added air of welcome. Suffice to say I don’t think we tried another one of their places on the whole trip. We had a drink and a bun and made tracks back to the hotel.

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