Highlights from the Okanagan

Sharon and I usually take a vacation toward the end of September and this year was no different. We decided to stay in Canada this time however, and spent nine days in the Okanagan. Aside from a quick trip to Kamloops and Kelowna a few years ago, neither of us had been to the Okanagan since we were kids. I keep joking that it’s nice to want to go to the wineries instead of being dragged along!

We flew into Kelowna and spent a couple of days there before moving on to Penticton and then Osoyoos. It was an interesting time of year to visit as we found ourselves right between high season and the winter season when many things close until the spring. We were also able to enjoy the beautiful fall colors and relatively warm weather (it snowed here a day after we returned home). Along the way we met a surprising number of Albertans including a few fellow Edmontonians!

Our guide for the trip was Jennifer Cockrall-King’s book Food Artisans of the Okanagan. Combined with a bit of TripAdvisor, which I finally started adding reviews to, we had no shortage of things to see and do. You can see my full collection of photos on Flickr, but here are some highlights from our trip!

We of course spent some time in downtown Kelowna, walking along the marina and through Stuart Park. It’s a beautiful part of the city an well worth a visit. You can even see Ogopogo!

Stuart Park Kelowna

We saw dozens and dozens of fruit stands throughout the Okanagan but decided to visit one in Kelowna very early on in our trip. Paynter’s Fruit Market is located in West Kelowna (which we learned separated from Kelowna in 2007 and was designated a city in 2015). There wasn’t much left, but picked some delicious pears and apples! The Red Delicious looked purple on the tree and were very tasty indeed.

Paynter's Fruit Market

The number one Kelowna attraction in TripAdvisor is Myra Canyon Park, known for its historic trestle bridges. There are sixteen wooden bridges and two steel bridges that were once part of the Kettle Valley Railway that have been saved (and reconstructed after a devastating fire in 2003) and incorporated into an amazing pedestrian and cycling trail. It was not particularly easy to find or get to, but was totally worth it once we did.

Myra Canyon Trestles

We decided to spring for the bike rentals and completed the entire 24 km circuit in about three and a half hours. The well-maintained trail was easy to navigate and the views along the way were spectacular. If you’re in the Kelowna area, don’t miss this!

Myra Canyon Trestles

On our way out of the city we stopped at Hardy Falls, near Peachland. It’s a relatively short trail and the falls are not very big but we really enjoyed our visit. We were lucky to witness the annual Kokanee salmon run which meant the creek was full of bright orange fish!

Hardy Falls

I don’t know why, but I wasn’t expecting much from Penticton and was pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed the city. This is the view from Munson Mountain which is on the east side of the city.

Munson Mountain

Penticton is bounded by Okanagan Lake to the north and Skaha Lake to the south. It was a bit too cold to go into the water while we were there, but we did manage to catch some amazing sunsets over the lake.

Sunset over Skaha Lake

A short drive from Penticton in Summerland is the Kettle Valley Steam Railway. Knowing how much I love trains, Sharon made sure we didn’t miss it!

Kettle Valley Steam Railway

On our way back to Penticton we came across this orchard with apples covering the ground and I just had to stop to take a photo. This wasn’t the only fruit we saw on the ground during our trip, and it was suggested to us that the Okanagan Valley is simply over-producing.

Excess Fruit

We realized that the Festival of the Grape was on in Oliver so purchased tickets and made a stop there on our way to Osoyoos. This was the 20th year of the festival which attracts more than 3,000 people each year. We enjoyed the wine tasting, Grape Stomp, and some food trucks too.

Festival of the Grape

Just south of Oliver is where we found Steve and Dan’s Fresh BC Fruit farm. We buy from them every week at the City Market Downtown so we had to stop for a photo!

Steve & Dan's

We spent a few days in Osoyoos staying at the Watermark Beach Resort, which had been recommended to us by a few people. I can see how it would be packed in the hot summer months but at this time of year it felt like we basically had the place to ourselves! It was a good homebase for our stay in the desert.

Watermark Osoyoos

Osoyoos is pretty close to the Similkameen Valley so we took a trip there one day. The highlight for me was visiting The Grist Mill, a historic water-powered mill that has been painstakingly restored to its original 1881 operating layout and actually grinds flour for sale once again. We spent about an hour with Cuyler Page, the man behind the project. His passion was clear and we learned a lot, including that the site is basically the reason (along with the work of Page and Sharon Rempel) we have Red Fife wheat again today.

The Grist Mill

We stopped in Keremeos on the way home at Benja Thai, a restaurant that you simply wouldn’t expect to find in such a small place. It was great, and it was very busy too! Just before getting back into Osoyoos we stopped for a photo at Spotted Lake, which is a “saline endorheic alkali lake”. It’s also a sacred site thought by First Nations peoples to provide therapeutic waters.

Spotted Lake

Before leaving Osoyoos we went on a tour of Nk’Mip Cellars, the first Aboriginal-owned winery in North America. Owned by the Osoyoos Indian Band, the winery is a small part of the 32,000 acres that make up the Osoyoos Indian Reserve.

NK'MIP Winery

I was really happy that we made it to the final day of the season for Hammer’s House of Hog, a food truck in Oliver. We ate a delicious pulled pork sandwich and enjoyed the beautiful scenery in the nearby park.

Fall Colours

It was the fuel we needed to tackle the four hour hike up to McIntyre Bluff. It’s a well-known landmark with an elevation at the highest point of 673 m (2,208 feet). It’s also known to be home to bears and rattlesnakes, neither of which we ran into.

Covert Farms

We’re fairly inexperienced hikers so it was quite the trek for us! I’m glad we did it though. It was really windy at the top but the views were great.

Hiking to McIntyre Bluff

On our last morning we toured Covert Farms, an organic farm and winery. It was really interesting to hear how they stay grow more than 40 different crops organically, not to mention grapes.

Covert Farms

Like all vacations, it came and went too quickly, but we had a great time and learned a lot along the way!

Covert Farms

You can see my full collection of photos on Flickr. Stay tuned for more detailed posts from Sharon if you’re thinking of a trip to the Okanagan yourself!

Recap: Jasper in January 2016

A few weeks ago I spent a couple of days in Jasper with Sharon. We were invited by Tourism Jasper to experience Jasper in January, the 27th annual festival that aims to showcase everything Jasper has to offer. Guests are encouraged to “stave off the urge to hibernate” and to “embrace winter”. The weekend getaway came at the perfect time for us, as we needed a couple of days to unwind.

Mack & Sharon

Tourism Jasper put us up in the Crimson Hotel, a part of the Mountain Park Lodges family, and covered our transportation and event tickets for the culinary events we visited during our stay. They also arranged for our travel to Jasper, via the SunDog Tour shuttle that regularly travels between Edmonton and Jasper, with stops at Edson and Hinton along the way. We simply took ETS to West Edmonton Mall where we met the shuttle outside the Fantasyland Hotel (their other local stop is the Edmonton International Airport). The only downside of taking the shuttle is that we were on their schedule of course, so we didn’t arrive in Jasper until nearly 8pm.

Wayne & Mack
Had to take a pic with Wayne Gretzky!

Our weekend was themed “appetites”, sandwiched between the “adventure” and “arts” weekends. First on the agenda was the Wine in Winter Welcome Reception. After checking into the hotel, we made the short walk over to the Chateau Jasper and found the event well underway. The reception featured wines from around the world, plus a small selection of cheeses and appetizers. The food was not very memorable, but we had fun with Linda & Mike trying to figure out who was giving the largest pours of wine!

Wicked Cup
My breakfast at Wicked Cup

Our first stop in the morning was at Wicked Cup. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm, and our coffee and breakfast was delicious. I think most people in our group were surprised at the portion sizes!

Mike, Linda, Sharon
Mike, Linda, and Sharon getting ready for snowshoeing

After breakfast a shuttle took us out to Marmot Meadows where we had the opportunity to do some snowshowing! The area features 9km of cross country ski trails and a new winterized warming shelter. It’s also part of the Jasper Dark Sky Preserve, the second largest dark sky preserve in the world.

Sharon snowshoeing

We had fun snowshowing, especially as we got to use the new, modern, aluminum style snowshoes!

Linda & Sharon
Linda and Sharon racing

We walked through some of the grounds as a group, then had some free time to explore on our own. Linda and Sharon used the opportunity to race! It was close, but I think Sharon won, mainly because Linda stumbled and fell!

Jasper Brewing Co
Behind-the-scenes at the Jasper Brewing Company

For lunch the shuttle took the group to the Jasper Brewing Company. It opened in 2005 and was Canada’s first National Park brewery. They brought us all a ton of appetizers, and I ordered the beer sampler to try their six brews. It sounds like their Jasper the Bear Ale is the most popular, but I preferred the Liftline Cream Ale. After lunch, we got a quick tour of the (surprisingly small) brewery downstairs, where we learned that they don’t do anything to the water except remove the chlorine added to it. Makes sense considering they have natural mountain water from the Rockies!

Jasper in January
Learning about backcountry cooking

After lunch the shuttle took us back out to Marmot Meadows where we were slated to learn about backcountry cooking. We had the opportunity to sample the stew and look at some of the backpacking cooking gear. We didn’t end up spending very long though, so that meant we had a couple of free hours to explore the town.

Linda taking an #elkie

Sharon and I walked around and did a bit of shopping, then we met up with Linda and Mike for a beer. It was nice to just relax for a bit! On the way back to the hotel we encountered a group of elk near the train tracks, and Linda couldn’t resist taking an “elkie”. Eventually a train went by and the elk were completely unphased, they must be used to it.

Jasper in January
Dinner at the JPL

That evening we took a shuttle out to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge for dinner. We were supposed to be having an “Orso Italian” dinner, but for whatever reason it was cancelled. They still put together an interesting menu for our media group though! Unfortunately the meal was rather inconsistent. My lobster pasta dish was great, with enough liquid and flavor, but others found theirs dry and a bit bland. Similarly the entrees were a mixed bag – it sounds like the ravioli prima vera was the best of the bunch.

After getting back to the hotel, Mike and I decided to head down to the Atha-B at the Athabasca Hotel where Tupelo Honey was playing. It made for a late night, but we had fun!

Athabasca Falls
Athabasca Falls

Had we gone home on the same bus that took us to Jasper, Sharon and I would have left bright and early Sunday morning. But lucky for us, Phil and Robyn offered to let us catch a ride back with them. That meant we had a bit more time to explore Jasper! We started at Athabasca Falls, beautifully covered in snow and ice. It was a little tricky to find, but I’m so glad we did. Athabasca Falls “is not the highest or the widest waterfall in the Canadian Rockies but it is the most powerful.”

Pyramid Lake
Possibly the most Canadian scene ever

After the falls, we made our way to Pyramid Lake. Ice skating, hockey, curling, skiing, sleigh rides – it was a winter wonderland!

Sharon curling at Pyramid Lake

We had lunch inside the lodge, then took the 40 minute sleigh ride along the shore. We also stopped to do a bit of curling on the lake! It was a very picturesque place to spend our final hours in Jasper. Thanks to Phil & Robyn for letting us tag along!

Jasper in January
A real sleigh ride at Pyramid Lake

Here are a few clips from our trip:

Thanks to Tourism Jasper for a great weekend! You can see more of my photos from the weekend here. Also be sure to check out Linda’s recap here.

Transforming the Edmonton International Airport into a destination

When was the last time you lingered – by choice – at the Edmonton International Airport? In the future, you might.

New EIA Air Traffic Control Tower

Earlier this month I attended a tour of the Edmonton International Airport called Taste of EIA with Sharon and Rebecca. We spent the evening eating, sampling some of what the airport has to offer passengers who aren’t rushing to catch their flight. If you’re more interested in hearing about the food, be sure to check out their posts. I’ll touch on it, but I’m going to focus more on how Taste of EIA fits into the bigger strategy for the airport.

EIA has set an “ambitious goal” of reaching 12 million passengers by 2020, according to its 2015-2020 Strategic Plan (PDF). That is ahead of third party projections of 11 million, but seems achievable if recent increases continue (as of June, numbers for 2015 are slightly behind the same time last year).

EIA Passenger Statistics
Stats via EIA, and do not count fixed base operators (FBO) passengers

You might be tempted to compare EIA to YYC, which surpassed 12 million passengers back in 2007. And while passenger traffic at EIA has been growing quickly, so is passenger traffic in Calgary. It seems unlikely that EIA is going to surpass or even compete with YYC anytime soon, so the strategy needs to be different.

EIA wants to become a destination, by focusing on passengers, creating exceptional customer experiences, and by developing non-aeronautical initiatives. You can see the building blocks coming together to make that happen. There’s the Renaissance Hotel at EIA so you can stay at the airport. There’s “over 60 shops and restaurants” available now to passengers. There’s the extensive parking options to make coming and going easier. And there’s the growing list of services and amenities, like free wi-fi, banking, storage, and plenty of power outlets.

Taste of EIA

So can it work?

I’ll admit I’m the kind of traveler who likes to arrive as close to departure as possible, at least when I’m traveling on my own. I’ve heard my name called for final boarding on a few occasions. My goal is generally to spend as little time as possible in airports – I just want to get in and get out. There have been some exceptions, however. The last time I flew to the US I went early because I knew I could get some work done with free wi-fi, Starbucks, and comfortable seating on the other side of security. I’ve never really thought about going to have a meal first though.

Taste of EIA

On the night we visited for Taste of EIA we ate at three places: Houston Steak & Ribs, Belgian Beer Cafe, and Cookies by George. Definitely the latter is my usual kind of airport stop, a quick coffee and a cookie suit me fine. But if I wanted to linger, I’d consider stopping at Houston, if for no other reason than the view (it looks out on the runways). I didn’t find the food particularly unique, but the sliders were good and came with delicious sweet potato fries. I’d order those again.

Taste of EIA

But will I really choose to go early and eat? I’m not sure. Maybe with Sharon.

I suppose it would help to sign up for EIA Rewards which offers members 25% discounts at the Plaza Premium Lounge and monthly discounts for parking, shopping, and dining. You can also win prizes like free parking or even flights. The program is free to join and is just another way that EIA is working to attract regular patrons to help increase non-aeronautical revenue.

Another way they are hoping to increase revenue is by adopting the “aerotropolis” model of commercial development (just like in Vancouver, Memphis, and Amsterdam).

“EIA is one of two Canadian airports to adopt the ‘aerotropolis’ concept. We are now transforming EIA from an ‘emerging aerotropolis’ to an ‘operational aerotropolis’ through developments such as the Cargo Village and Highway Commercial.”

Think of the aerotropolis model as a mini commercial city, but with the airport as the core. For EIA, it means expansion of the Cargo Village, the development of an office campus, possibly another hotel, light industrial activity, and other retail opportunities. They might even build a pet hotel!

Outlet Collection at Niagara
Walking into Outlet Collection at Niagara

The big project you’ve already heard about is the Highway Commercial, which refers to the proposed, 415,000-square-foot outlet mall that will be built by Ivanhoé Cambridge (the developers behind CrossIron Mills) next to Highway 2. That shopping centre will be serviced by a shuttle from the airport and is slated to open in the fall of 2017. I’m hopeful that it’ll be similar to the Outlet Collection at Niagara in terms of design, with lots of open, outdoor space.

But that’s a future project and of course by being outside the airport it’ll be open to anyone, not just passengers. Still, it could be another reason to spend time and money at EIA. And that’s ultimately what they’re after in the quest to become a destination.

In the meantime, there are plenty of shops and restaurants at EIA for you to experience. If you give yourself the time to do so, of course!

You can see more photos from Taste of EIA here.

Hitched & Honeymooning

Yesterday, in the city that we both love, I married my best friend. Sharon and I had a wonderful day, and we’re very grateful for all the kind messages that we have received – thank you!

There are a bunch of photos up on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #MackAndSharon, and we’ll of course have more as soon as we get them from Moments in Digital, who did a fantastic job capturing our day. Here’s one that Bruce posted yesterday:

mack & sharon

And here’s a selfie – very 2014 of us, don’t you think?

mack & sharon

We’re leaving early Monday morning for our honeymoon, in Vietnam & South Korea. We’ll be posting some photos of our adventures along the way on social media, but likely won’t be blogging. So it’ll be quiet around here.

See you in a few weeks!

On vacation in New York!

Just a quick post to say that I am on vacation this week and likely won’t be blogging. I was in Miami all last week for work, which was nice considering it was one of the few hot places in the United States, and now I am in New York with Sharon. We’ll be back in Edmonton for Christmas.

Manhattan, NYC

If you want to see what we’re up to in the Big Apple, follow along on Twitter, Instagram, and Foursquare.

If you’re looking for Edmonton news, check out ShareEdmonton. Or, you know, Twitter.

Celebrities will never be Edmonton’s cheerleaders

There’s no such thing as bad publicity – isn’t that how the saying goes? That might have been a good maxim in the past, but I’m not so sure that Travel Alberta and EEDC would agree with it in the current social media-laden world. Both agencies have taken a virtual beating over the last week for their decision to spend $20,000 to bring former “Bachelorette” star Ashley Hebert and her fiancé J.P. Rosenbaum to Edmonton. The couple was flown in from New York, stayed at the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald, visited the Art Gallery of Alberta, the Old Strathcona Farmers Market, and the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival, and ate at Joey’s. They seemed to have a good time, judging by their tweets, and both Travel Alberta and EEDC have been defending the expense. But questioning whether or not the trip was worth it for us is just one of the many questions that Edmontonians have been asking.

Perhaps the first question is: why Ashley and J.P.? The answer is demographics. Despite having eight seasons under its belt, “The Bachelorette” remains an incredibly successful show for ABC. And significantly, it performs very well in the all-important 18-34 demographic. In fact, the show is #1 in its timeslot for that demographic. Reaching potential visitors in the 18-34 age group is an important target for Travel Alberta and EEDC. Those are the folks that have the disposable income and ability to visit, and they’re also the group that might want to move here to work or to start a family.

Another question that comes to mind is, what do we get in return? Travel Alberta and EEDC will tell you that the return on investment comes in the form of media coverage. Incredibly, they think that we’ve earned at least $250,000 in media coverage. I suspect that figure is based predominately on the number of page views a website gets. Well let me tell you, I could put up a website with photos of the trip and spend a couple of hundred dollars and within hours I’d have hundreds of thousands of page views, but they’d all be completely worthless. Take a look at the coverage that EEDC has been highlighting. Here’s the “coverage” that appeared on CBSNews:


How is that photo supposed to make anyone want to visit Edmonton? Or how about this article or this blog post. Would anyone seriously look at that and say, you know, I want to visit Edmonton! I know that you have to stay top-of-mind if you want to be considered, but it feels like we’re deluding ourselves here. I think the most valuable exposure we got from this trip was the tweets from Ashley and J.P. themselves, yet that doesn’t appear to have been factored into that $250,000 number.

Let’s assume that bringing Ashley & J.P. was a good investment because of the target demographic we want to reach and the media coverage that we received as a result. Did the itinerary align with that? The couple stayed at the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald. Aside from the fact that the hotel doesn’t seem to match the couple’s style, it’s probably not the first place a 25-year-old visitor might consider. Why not have them stay at The Matrix or The Metterra hotels? The folks at Hotel Mac are fantastic, and I’m sure they took great care of Ashley and J.P., but it doesn’t seem like the right choice. I certainly can’t complain about the activities – the Fringe, the AGA, and the OSFM are all excellent stops (though I would have preferred to see them at the City Market Downtown). Sending the couple to Joey’s for dinner, however, was shocking to me. Travel Alberta talks a good game about culinary tourism, but this makes me question everything about their efforts on that front. You fly them all the way to Edmonton to eat at a chain? I know that independent restaurants can sometimes be trickier to work with, but if you’re not going to do it right don’t do it at all. You know which restaurant is not on Dine Alberta’s list of those that serve local food? Joey’s.

Could Travel Alberta and EEDC have taken a different approach? If you’ve seen “The Bachelorette” (judge me if you must but I have) you’ll know that the show is really more of an extended travel commercial than an emotional quest for true love. The bachelorette and her potential suitors fly all over the world to attractive, romantic destinations. Beaches, mountains, and busy cobblestone streets are all common sights. If reaching viewers of “The Bachelorette” is important, why not work to have Edmonton and Alberta featured as one of the destinations on the show itself? At least that way we’d be able to showcase our natural beauty and probably one or two interesting activities too. Maybe Travel Alberta and EEDC have tried to make that happen, I’m not sure, but it does seem like the return would have been greater.

I really hope that Travel Alberta and EEDC both review this experiment and learn from it. We need creative and innovative approaches to attracting tourism and investment to Edmonton, but that still has to align with strategic objectives. I would hate to see the individuals responsible for this reprimanded – instead I hope they are recognized for their initiative but educated about the importance of providing context. The uproar over this relatively minor $20,000 expense could have been almost completely avoided. And while it’s great to see Travel Alberta and EEDC working together on something, it seems to me that a few more discussions about shared objectives should have taken place first.

Ultimately, I don’t think we should ever count on celebrities to be Edmonton’s cheerleaders. Sure they might tweet something about how much they loved Edmonton, but at the end of the day that has very little impact, and there’s no guarantee that media coverage will result. The connection between bringing celebrities to Edmonton and the increased tourism and economic activity that may result seems tenuous at best. Instead of focusing on a few celebrities here and there, let’s focus on the 1.2 million people that already have a strong connection to Edmonton. Let’s provide Edmontonians themselves with the confidence, tools, and common language to tell others just how great Edmonton is and why they should come here to live, work, or play.

I’d spend $20,000 on that, wouldn’t you?

A new take on steak in Calgary

A little over a month ago, Sharon and I were invited to join a group of bloggers in Calgary for the YYC Steak Tour. Tourism Calgary wanted to showcase local restaurants that have “a new take on steak” – something more than traditional meat and potatoes! We ate at five restaurants: Ox & Angela, Anju, Raw Bar, CHARCUT, and Rouge. Sharon has already done a very thorough job of reviewing the meal at each, so be sure to check out her posts.

On the way into Calgary, we stopped off at CrossIron Mills to have lunch at South St. Burger Co. While I liked the burger assembly line (similar to Subway) the patty itself was underwhelming. The texture and taste reminded me too much of a frozen burger. Sharon did enjoy the onion rings, however.

South St. Burger

We usually stay at Hotel Le Germain when we visit Calgary, but as our accommodations this trip were being covered by Tourism Calgary, we were more than happy to stay at the Kensington Riverside Inn. It was very comfortable, and you really can’t beat the location! We took advantage of it, walking around Kensington and along the river.

Kensington Riverside Inn

We made sure to stop at Higher Ground, a popular coffee shop in Kensington. It turned out that Dan Clapson, the manager of Higher Ground and also a food blogger, was on our tour! It was great to chat with Dan about the popular meeting spot. He really knows his customer base, and doesn’t pretend to compete against Phil & Sebastian, instead recognizing that people visit Higher Ground for more than artisan coffee.

Higher Ground

We took advantage of the proximity of our hotel to the river, and walked along Memorial Drive. We spent some time checking out the Peace Bridge, the controversial new bridge that connects downtown and the community of Sunnyside. I think it’s very interesting to look at, but I can see how it wasn’t welcomed by all Calgarians. With a total cost of about $24 million, it wasn’t cheap either! The bridge officially opened on March 24.

Peace Bridge
Peace Bridge

Our first stop on the YYC Steak Tour was Ox & Angela. We had a tapas style meal, with many small plates which turned out to be a great way to meet all of the other folks on the tour. The Spring Creek Ranch flat iron steak was quite tasty, but the “fierce potatoes” definitely stole the show. They were delicious! I also ate more than my share of the churros for dessert.

Ox & Angela
Patatas bravas at Ox & Angela

Our next stop was Anju. We were quite excited to meet Chef Roy Oh, a former Edmontonian who moved to Calgary nearly a decade ago. To start, we got to try soju – the Korean equivalent of vodka, distilled from rice instead of wheat. Though there was Sprite on hand to mix it with, I actually preferred it straight. Very tasty. My favorite dish was the malpec oysters, served with kimchi for a bit of heat. Also memorable were the chicken wings, something the Calgarians were raving about. They were, in a word, hot. I swear I couldn’t feel my lips for hours after we ate them!

Malpec oysters with a kimchi mignonette at Anju

The last scheduled stop was Raw Bar, but as we had to leave Calgary early enough to get back to Edmonton on Sunday night, we visited the restaurant for lunch without the rest of the group. We sampled the cocktails and even though we were on the steak tour, I simply could not resist trying the mushroom and bacon poutine. It probably could have used a bit more gravy and cheese, but it was delicious nonetheless.

Raw Bar
Mushroom and bacon poutine at Raw Bar

Next up on the tour was CHARCUT, the only restaurant we had eaten at previously. We’re big Top Chef nerds, so Sharon and I couldn’t believe that we were actually with Connie DeSousa! We started by visiting the prep kitchen upstairs where Connie and John showed us how they make blood sausage (which they later cooked and served to us). It was pretty awesome to get a peek behind the curtain!

The kitchen at CHARCUT

Of course, no trip to CHARCUT is complete without eating the signature poutine. Potatoes fried in duck fat, cheese curds, and chicken fat gravy. How can you go wrong? I could have eaten it all night long.

Duck fat poutine at CHARCUT

Probably my least favorite stop on the tour was Rouge. Compared to the rest of the dishes we ate, Rouge definitely featured the most formal and refined menu. My favorite dish was the lab two ways – a cut of sirloin and braised lamb mixed with lentils. The bee pollen macaron with lemon cream to end was also pretty tasty!

Lamb two ways at Rouge

It seems that whenever we visit Calgary we do so primarily to eat! It was great to have the opportunity to try something new at some of Calgary’s hottest restaurants. Thanks again to Tourism Calgary for hosting us – it was a great trip!

Again, be sure to check out Sharon’s much more thorough reviews of the restaurants we visited.

Edmonton’s New First Impression

About six years ago I travelled to Los Angeles for the Portable Media Expo. We had a great time at the event and got to spend a little bit of time afterward doing some sightseeing. I don’t remember much of that, to be honest, but there is one experience that has always stuck with me: my first impression upon arriving at LAX. Having never been to Los Angeles before, the picture I had in my head of the city and everything in it was modern and glamorous. I mean, it’s a famous city and is home to Hollywood, right? That picture applied to LAX itself too, especially considering its iconic airport code. The reality was much different, however. The part of the airport that we experienced seemed small, old, unattractive, and dirty. It certainly wasn’t a positive first impression.

For a long time, I think you could say the same about Edmonton’s airport. Things got a little better with the last expansion, but I still find that the first impression leaves much to be desired. You’ve probably heard the saying that “first impressions are lasting impressions” and I think that’s particularly true when you visit a new city. Even if a visitor makes it to the Art Gallery of Alberta, the river valley, or any of the other memorable attractions that Edmonton has to offer, it can be incredibly difficult to get over a negative first impression at the airport, especially considering you have to go through the facility again to leave.

That’s one of the reasons that I am particularly excited about Expansion 2012. It will change visitors’ first impressions upon arriving in Edmonton for the better.

When you fly through an airport like Heathrow in London, you rarely have to wait for your bags after arriving. That’s because it takes so long to walk from the gate to the baggage carousel – the airport is just so big! In Edmonton, you almost always arrive at the baggage carousel before your bags do. That frustrates travellers and contributes to the poor first impression. With Expansion 2012, the walk in from the gate will take longer, and that should mean less waiting around for your bags.

Expansion 2012

But don’t worry, chances are you won’t even notice that the walk takes longer. That’s due in part to the moving walkways that have been installed, but more importantly it is because of Flightpath, a digital light and sound system created by Electroland (of Los Angeles, wouldn’t you know it). The interactive installation features motion sensors that pick up movement and activate the sound and LED lights. It’s kind of hard to describe, so here it is in action:

At the end of the Interstitial Corridor is the new entrance, with Canada Customs on the main level (opening this summer) and the new International/Domestic Lounge on the second level (opening this fall). It’s big, open, bright, and inviting – everything our current entrance is not. Prominently featured is The Living Wall, a two-storey green wall that will serve double duty as an art piece and an air filtration system. Coming this summer is The Raven: Bringer of Light, a ceiling-hung stainless steel and embossed acrylic sculpture created by Michael Hayden that is 30 feet by 18 feet and weighs 3500 pounds. It sounds impressive, and I can’t wait to see it.

Expansion 2012

Airports need to be functional first and foremost, but they can’t stop there. A city’s airport plays a significant role in shaping a visitor’s opinions, and as such needs to deliver an experience that is both relaxing and memorable. Expansion 2012 no doubt makes the Edmonton International Airport more functional, but it also delivers a much improved first impression for visitors. That’s ultimately good for both EIA and for Edmonton.

You can check out a few more photos in my Expansion 2012 photoset.

Recap: Vacation in San Francisco

Sharon and I got back to Edmonton last night after spending ten days in San Francisco. I had never been there before but had always heard great things. As a bit of a “food town” we thought it would be a great place for us to go to get away from things for a while. Here are some of the highlights.

San Francisco
Based on a couple of recommendations, we looked at the Kimpton Hotel chain. We chose Hotel Triton, located right near the Chinatown gate. It was fantastic!

Heart of the City Farmers' Market
Pretty much the first thing we did after arriving was visit the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market. It reminded us of our own City Market.

Chinatown was an early highlight for me. I’d never seen a Chinatown like the one in San Francisco!

Fisherman's Wharf
Without a doubt the most touristy place we visited was Fisherman’s Wharf. Lots to see and do in the area. I enjoyed eating fresh crab there!

Crooked Street
Another popular tourist spot is the crookedest street in America. No not Wall Street, Lombard Street.

Of course, no trip to San Francisco would be complete without a trip to the infamous rock! We actually watched The Rock before leaving for our trip.

Coit Tower
This photo was taken from Coit Tower (you can see the reflection). If you can believe it, we ran into a couple we knew from Edmonton at the top of the tower! Small world.

Ferry Building
We loved all of the fresh produce that was available (and Sharon was particularly sad that we didn’t have a kitchen available). Visiting the Ferry Building Farmers’ Market was pretty cool.

Domaine Chandon
The tasting fees quickly added up, but our decision to take a tour of wine country turned out to be a good one.

Mack, Sharon, Hubert Keller
One of the dinners we had made reservations for in advance was at Fleur de Lys. The highlight was getting to meet Chef Hubert Keller, one of our favorites from Top Chef Masters.

Golden Gate Bridge
We decided to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. It started off foggy but quickly cleared. Other than being very windy, it was a great walk!

Ghirardelli Square Chocolate Festival
All the festivals we visited seemed to be extremely well attended, and the Ghirardelli Square Chocolate Festival was no exception. The lines were insane!

Opera in the Park

Opera in the Park
One of my favorite events was Opera in the Park. This year was San Francisco Opera’s 37th annual event.

San Francisco
This is me sitting in a POPOS – a privately owned public open space. I’m holding a Super Burrito from the San Buena Taco Truck, one of my favorite things we ate.

San Francisco
We did ride the cable car once. This photo also shows the hills San Francisco is known for, and a fire escape too (they were a very common sight).

Chez Panisse
Potentially my favorite dish – a pizza from Chez Panisse. I’m a sucker for eggs.

Muir Woods
On our last morning, we visited Muir Woods. It was so quiet!

Domaine Chandon
Sharon and I at the Domaine Chandon winery.

That’s really just a taste of our trip. You can see the rest of our photos (846 in all) here.

I really enjoyed San Francisco and would definitely visit again!

Trip to New Orleans: Day 1

I arrived in New Orleans on Sunday evening, but a mix of enjoying the city and unreliable Internet access have kept me from blogging so far. I’m here until Friday for Microsoft’s Tech·Ed North America conference.

I flew from Edmonton to Houston, where I met my conference buddy John Bristowe. After a short wait, we were off to New Orleans. The flight was only supposed to take about an hour, but thunderstorms in New Orleans kept us up in the air for about an hour more. Being in the holding pattern gave me an opportunity to see the area quite well – I was reminded of the Mackenzie River Delta (in the Northwest Territories where I grew up) because of all the water. Eventually we were able to land, and were shocked at all the water on the ground!

Stepping off the plane and into the corridor, I was hit with a blast of humid, hot air. I’m still not used to how humid it is here compared to home! More than a few times I’ve gone outside from a nicely air conditioned building only to have my glasses fog up. We snagged a taxi and made it to the hotel pretty quickly, passing by the Superdome and remembering Katrina along the way.

New Orleans
View from the hotel

For dinner on Sunday evening I joined a group of fellow Canadians at Palace Cafe. I’m going to write more about the food on Sharon’s blog, so all I’ll say for now is that it was delicious! Afterward, we walked down Bourbon Street, eventually making our way to Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub for a drink and some great music. It was quite the experience, both Fritzel’s and just Bourbon Street in general. Lots of people, though I know it’s not even close to the busiest time of the year, lots of beads, lots of music, and lots of drinks. The local Abita Amber beer is pretty tasty.

Palace Cafe
Fried oyster loaf

New Orleans
Canal Street

Bourbon Street
Bourbon Street

I’m really enjoying New Orleans so far, and can’t wait to check out some more sights, sounds, and eats throughout the week! You can see my New Orleans photoset here (I’ll keep adding to it).