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Calgary Sunday

We started our morning with our friends in search of free flap jacks. An error on my part in reading the times lead us to arriving too early at a church in the northeast sector of Calgary. Then an iOS app error pointed us to the Calgary Tower instead of a free flap jack venue.

We abandoned our search for free flap jacks in flavour of paid food. We ended passing a restaurant along 4th Street SW. There was a line up as we drive past. A long lineup must be a good sign.

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Red’s Diner was a good stumble upon. Since we couldn’t have free flap jacks, I absolutely wanted a pancake plus more. So I ordered the Big Breakfast.

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After breakfast, we headed to the Calgary Zoo. We had spent about a couple of hours in the zoo when the sky opened up. I think somebody left the tap running. We were really soaked as we ran from tree to tree and from exhibit to exhibit.

So we got back in the car after seeing the aminals (error intended) and started our drive to our friends’ place in Edmonton. A normally 3-hour drive to the Alberta capital took over 4 hours in the heavy rainfall and heavy traffic. It was a parking lot at times and I couldn’t see more than a couple of cars in front of me.

What a Sunday.

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Stampede

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The morning started in Canmore. An overcast view of the mountain across the way greeted us as we left our hotel room.

We drove into Calgary and picked up our friends from Edmonton at the Greyhound station. we went straight to the Calgary Stampede grounds.

Food was the theme of our time walking around The Stampede.

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This is the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede. It’s really busy. I couldn’t be how busy it was and how long the line ups were. All in good fun.

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Into the Canadian Rockies

Brief rundown of day one on the road trip.

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We hit up the Last Spike and Revelstoke Railway Museum along the way up. The train geek in me could let it pass by. My family never stopped at these places when I was a kid, so I wanted to make sure we did it this time.

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Then about 3-4 hours later, we crossed into Alberta. Lake Louise is really close to the BC-Alberta border. I never tire of visiting Lake Louise. It’s always picture perfect.

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Then we finally got some dinner at 8pm in Banff. A glass of Big Rock Traditional Ale helped to relax after a long day on the road.

Day Off for Canada Day

Happy belated Canada Day. I went out yesterday, but really take any photos. We went out to the Salmon Festival yesterday. We joined the merry throngs of cars and people. Boy. Did we ever park far away. We even bumped into a couple of friends and grabbed some corn dogs. We totally missed the parade, though. That’s ok. That’s the price of sleeping in.

Oh. I did take one iPhone photo yesterday, though. Here is the soft serve ice cream with cream puff from the Japanese buffet at Izumi-Tei.

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Happy Canada Day!

Goodbye Ormidale Street

Ormidale Street is a little known street just one block west of Boundary Road. That makes it the last street before eastern edge of Vancouver. A new project is about to go up at Kingsway and Boundary. The giant wooden signs proclaiming the upcoming Wall Centre Central Park.

But back in February this year, I had a chance to walk up and down Ormidale Street after a rare dusting of Vancouver snow. Almost all the homes along Ormidale between Vanness Avenue and Kingsway were boarded up. The snow and boards added to the mood of the impending deconstruction.

All of these homes in the mashup above are gone except for the ambulance station. The station is just too essential to get rid of just yet. It makes me wonder what will happen to the ambulance service for the neighbourhood when construction starts.

A few weeks later with all the snow gone, I walked past the now demolished homes. Huge white garbage bags could be found on some lots. It looked like they were left for the Green Giant to pick up and take to the landfill. I must say I loved how they left the stairs of one home. Even that is gone now. Almost all the homes on the Boundary side are also gone. The next step for the giant piece of land will be excavation.

How a Coldplay concert is like a Chinese wedding banquet

A rock concert is like a Chinese wedding banquet. You are asked to arrive at 7pm, but the actual dinner doesn’t start until 9pm.

I’m sitting in this Coldplay concert in Vancouver experiencing almost the same thing. The tix said a 7pm start. There were two opening acts. It’s almost 9pm and the “food” has yet to be served. Serves me right. My first rock concert ever.

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Oh. Here comes smoke. Should be starting the “feast” soon.

Portland’s Brewery Blocks

We left the central part of Portland’s Downtown. It was still too early to search for dinner and we just had our “unhappy hour” meal. Originally, I thought we’d walk around Powell’s City of Books for a while. As we circled around the block for parking, we came across the Brewery Blocks.

The Brewery Blocks are on the southern edge of the the ever-gentrified Pearl District. It’s a five-block section of the Pearl District which used to be the Blitz-Weinhard Brewery. The stores are mostly higher-end retail such as Whole Foods Market and Anthropologie. Even though, we weren’t likely to buy anything in the stores, we still decided to explore some of these funky shops.

We did venture into Anthropologie. It always feels like an upscale Urban Outfitters when I walk into Anthropologie. We didn’t really find much in there. Two stores really got our interest, though.

West Elm is a stylish, high-quality furnishing store. There was a lot of furniture, which wasn’t exorbitantly priced, but it would still make your wallet a lot lighter. It’s a part of the Williams-Sonoma/Pottery Barn family of stores, so you’d expect a certain price tag to be attached to it. One of the displays near the entrance was how to create your own indoor garden of succulents (cactii and friends) which made for interesting perusal. My wife didn’t want to buy any since she had managed to kill an aloe vera plant in our care. Then there alphabet art scattered throughout the store. It must be the trend to decorate one’s place with one’s own initials these days. If you are looking to find your initials in as many different font styles possible, then West Elm may just be your answer.

Another store we really enjoyed (and actually bought stuff) was Storables. The Storables store is not actually part of the Brewery Blocks, but it is right across the street from one of the Blocks where you can find a Chase Bank branch. It doesn’t look like much of a store from the outside; however, we loved how it was a home organization store with everything. Most places you go into, there’s a small section of shelving and a small section of bathroom organizers and so on. It was a simple, no nonsense warehouse of home organization goodness. We bought a nice Umbra behind-the-door clothing hangar and a kitchen sink pad amongst our purchases. Wifey kept asking why we don’t have this kind of store in Vancouver as we made our way through the aisles. Good question. Hey Storables! Open a store in Vancouver, BC.

We had only put about an hour in the meter thinking it would be enough, but it wasn’t. So we went back to the car. The rain really started to pick up again and it wasn’t so fun to walk around in this weather. So we didn’t linger any more in the Brewery Blocks. However, the Brewery Blocks and the rest of the Pearl District would be a great place to explore if the weather was better.

I have one lingering question, though. Is there no longer an operating brewery in the Brewery Blocks? That’s quite a shame if that’s true. At least Portland has no shortage of microbreweries in town.

P.S. As I’m typing this, I realize I did visit the Brewery Blocks 3 years ago when I first visited Portland. We had dinner at Henry’s 12th Street Tavern. It was a great place for steak. Yum yum. We had stumbled across it when we were stranded by a streetcar going out of service.

Austin Is the Place To Be

Austin Aglow by Andy (atmtx photography)

More and more these days, I keep hearing about Austin, Texas. Before this year, I didn’t know very much about the small capitol of the Lone Star State. However, Austin seems to be climbing in status and stature in the US. Many major companies and international events call, or are starting to call, Austin home.

The big event going on in Austin right now is South By Southwest 2012 on from March 9-18. South By Southwest, or simply known as SXSW 2012, is the largest confluence of music, film, and interactive industries in the United States. There is no festival quite like SXSW. For the past month leading up to SXSW 2012, I’ve seen all sorts of ads on websites asking you to visit their booth at SXSW.

Austin ranks high on Richard Florida’s Creative Cities list. Austin is home to the University of Texas in Austin. This attracts money for research, innovation, and new companies. Austin ranks high on factors that attract people who belong to the Creative Class. It’s become a high tech hub of innovation in Texas. Software companies, like Trilogy, promote fun, creativeness, and individuality. All this attracts people who belong to the Creative Class into Austin.

In an article by Richard Florida in the Washington Monthly, he talks to a young man from Pittsburgh who decides to move to Austin to join Trilogy.

I asked the young man with the spiked hair why he was going to a smaller city in the middle of Texas, a place with a small airport and no professional sports teams, without a major symphony, ballet, opera, or art museum comparable to Pittsburgh’s. The company is excellent, he told me. There are also terrific people and the work is challenging. But the clincher, he said, is that, “It’s in Austin!” There are lots of young people, he went on to explain, and a tremendous amount to do: a thriving music scene, ethnic and cultural diversity, fabulous outdoor recreation, and great nightlife.

Austin is also the home of the giant organic supermarket chain, Whole Foods Market. So that helps to set Austin high up on the sustainability charts. Whole Foods has extended their food empire with stores in the US, Canada, and UK.

Large Cities Creativity Rankings

Rankings of 49 metro areas reporting populations over 1 million in the 2000 Census

Top Ten Cities

City Creativity Index %Creative Workers Creative Rank High-Tech Rank Innovation Rank Diversity Rank
San Francisco 1057 34.8 5 1 2 1
Austin 1028 36.4 4 11 3 16
San Diego 1015 32.1 15 12 7 3
Boston 1015 38.0 3 2 6 22
Seattle 1008 32.7 9 3 12 8
Chapel Hill 996 38.2 2 14 4 28
Houston 980 32.5 10 16 16 10
Washington 964 38.4 1 5 30 12
New York 962 32.3 12 13 24 14
Dallas 960 30.2 23 6 17 9
Minneapolis 960 33.9 7 21 5 29

The other event that makes me think of Austin is the new F1 US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas just outside of Austin. Formula 1 auto racing has been absent from the United States for many years now. But come this November, Formula 1 will once again be on American soil. The circuit is still being constructed, but the Formula 1 world and Austin must be getting revved up for the inaugural event.

Circuit of the Americas, Austin, TX

So before this year, I didn’t really know much about the Texas capitol. But it’s obviously a smaller city with an up and coming future. It is one of the places to be in the US now. I’ll see if I ever get a chance to visit Austin in the future. Maybe I’ll even attend of the big events. We’ll see.

Portland Aerial Tram

The first time I visited Portland, I arrived at the aerial tram on a statutory holiday. That meant the tram was not running. I even purposely took the streetcar all the way from downtown to ride the aerial tram. So after being disappointed on my first visit to the tram, I was not about to be disappointed this time.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to the tram. We were heading east along Hawthorne Boulevard and drove right across the Hawthorne Bridge. Sounds simple. However, the Hawthorne Bridge is a drawbridge. Lucky us. We had to wait 10 minutes as a tugboat approached from downstream and had to make its way up the Williamette River.

waiting on the Hawthorne Bridge

So after this little delay, we drove over to the Portland Aerial Tram. If you are driving from downtown, it’s best to follow the signs that say South Waterfront. One good sign that you are going in the right direction is that you will be following the streetcar tracks. Keep following the tracks and you will come across the lower station for the aerial tram.

We found a lot of on-street paid parking in the area. I paid too much thinking I needed a lot of time to explore, but an hour is more than enough. So don’t overpay. Also, when you collect your ticket/receipt, remember to stick it to the window closest to the sidewalk, not on your dashboard. I remember I had to do this with my parking tickets in downtown Seattle as well.

We followed the signs to the tram. The signs are not in great abundance, but you should easily see the tram line hanging high in the sky. Just go to where the line meets the ground. Or if you are taking the streetcar, just get off at the very last stop and you will be right there at the lower tram station.

If you are interested, you can also walk around the South Waterfront neighbourhood. It’s a large steel and glass tower neighbourhood. On the ground, it isn’t all that animated. Perhaps because it’s a new neighbourhood that is separated from most of Portland by Interstate 5. However, the Oregon Health & Sciences University (OHSU) building that is directly beside the tram station is fairly busy on the inside.

A round trip on the aerial tram is $4 per person. Tickets are dispensed at a ticket vending machine. I thought we would be able to keep the ticket after boarding, but the attendant collected all the tickets. So take a photo of your ticket if you want a little memento of your ride. Or you could pay $4 to keep a ticket for yourself, if you really wanted to.

Currently, as you ascend the hill, you quickly see the construction of a pedestrian overpass. I overhear a local explaining to a friend that the overpass is meant to connect the new South Waterfront neighbourhood with the neighbourhood on the other side of I-5. It also gives residents on the other side of I-5 a chance to visit the waterfront without having to drive over.

There are only two cars that operate on this short tram ride. As we made our way up the hill, we passed the other one that was making its way down. With the two trams, service is roughly every 10 minutes. An advisory on the website says service slows to a tram every 15 minutes when winds are high.

high above I-5 in the Portland Aerial Tram

One thing I noticed as we rode the tram is the lack of towers. There’s the two termini on either end and one tower near the lower station. However, it’s completely free hanging from the one tower to the top. That’s a pretty far way to string these giant cables.

Also, these aerial trams are very different from other aerial gondola I’ve ridden. I’m used to seeing the small gondolas that carry a few people at a time. Those are the gondolas common at major ski resorts, like Whistler. This gondola can easily carry two dozen people and a few bikes.

At the very top of Marquam Hill, is the upper tram tower plus the campus of OHSU. We had disembarked at the top and wanted to walk around to see what was there. We quickly noticed that we were in a hospital. A nice hospital, too. Doctors, nurses, and other staff were busy zipping about. Patients were patiently waiting for their appointments. I assume this is a private university given how upscale everything felt. I could be wrong, though. I just felt that there was money here. Wifey quickly quipped, “Who ever willingly goes to a hospital as part of their vacation.”

After using the restrooms, we went back to the tram station. The tram station offers a great view of the city. If it were a clearer day, we could see the mountains further off. Today was very cloudy and rainy at times, so we were just happy to be able to see the city.

So we made our way back down on the tram. There are no attendants to collect tickets on the way down. Payment is only ever made on the way up. Apparently, staff and students of OHSU ride for free. Nice perk.

On the way down, I had a clear shot north of downtown Portland. So make sure to keep to the left of the tram if you want a clear view of downtown on the way down. I would stay on the right side if I were heading up. Again, it was a very cloudy day and the grey skies obscured any and all mountains.

Back at the bottom at South Waterfront. A streetcar had just arrived and the driver was taking a break. Good time for more transit photography. However, we wouldn’t be taking the streetcar this time around. It was back to our car and off to downtown.