Nev Judd: Online and out there

Exploring Edmonton

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Keeping cool in Edmonton's hot summer means a trip to the Legislature's fountains for many families.

Keeping cool in Edmonton’s hot summer means a trip to the Legislature’s fountains for some families.

Guest blog by Leah Judd

The guidelines were simple enough: find a destination within a 24 hour train ride that didn’t involve many transfers, somewhere safe, warm and relatively cheap. After eliminating San Francisco (Comfort Inn $350USD/night), and Eugene (three transfers) my friend Signy and I narrowed down the choices to Edmonton.  But did Edmonton have any kind of cool factor, something you could brag about on Facebook? Apparently not, as many friends thought we were being sent to Edmonton as a punishment of some kind.  Even Edmontonians were surprised that Edmonton was our destination, rather than just a layover.

Via Rail offers a spectacular and affordable service through the Rockies into Edmonton. Departing Vancouver early Sunday evening, the view along the Fraser River was so different than the one from a car window. Close to the water, we chugged through suburbs and industrial parks where the tracks lay hidden. Our beds for the night were a couple of upper bunks, with more than enough room to spread out and thick privacy curtains. Our “Sleeper Plus” fare included three meals in the dining car, and each meal was a treat. Booking the last sitting for each meal meant we had extra time to enjoy the food and take in the scenery.  The dome car had seats available most of the day, making it easier to spot the moose and the Big Horn sheep alongside the tracks.  We also had an hour to explore Jasper while other passengers unloaded for their visit to the Rockies. Jasper tourism didn’t seem to take advantage of our layover – short term bike rentals,  a quick taxi tour or a guided walk would have helped make the most of our time in Jasper. Instead we wandered around, admiring the Fifties architecture of the shops and wondering about the history of the town.

Edmonton's High Level Bridge offers a great perspective of the city.

Edmonton’s High Level Bridge offers a great perspective of the city.

After 27 wonderful hours on Via Rail from Vancouver, Edmonton was the perfect summer destination. We stayed in Old Strathcona – south of downtown across the North Saskatchewan River – which certainly amped up the cool factor. Bearded and bespectacled gentlemen serving coffee and selling used books convinced us that we had hit Edmonton’s hipster ‘hood. With an original Army and Navy department store and few chain stores, Whyte Avenue had plenty of shops to browse for locals and tourists escaping the heat.  An hour spent at the Wee Book Inn meant my hand luggage was overweight on the return flight!

Walking across the High Level Bridge gave us a great perspective of the city. The Legislature Building sits beautifully surrounded by 56 acres of manicured trees, lawns and gardens. A free tour of the “Ledge” provided great anecdotes from Alberta’s history, but the origins of the palm trees growing in the main dome of the building remain a mystery! Most impressive was the mirror pool in front of the Legislative Building.  Coming from drought ridden BC it was surprising to see kids swimming in the fountains in front of the Government buildings. Not just one or two families letting their kids cool their feet in the pool, but rather whole groups of summer campers enjoying a dip and spraying water guns to boost the fun factor. Everywhere we went in Edmonton locals were swimming in fountains and making the most of summer in the city.

Serenity now at the Mirror Pond outside the Alberta 'Ledge'.

Serenity now at the Mirror Pond outside the Alberta ‘Ledge’.

Teaching Canadian history was my excuse for dragging Signy to Fort Edmonton. Once located in view of the Legislature Building and downtown Edmonton, many of the buildings were reconstructed further down the South bank of the North Saskatchewan River. Fort Edmonton now houses a replica HBC fur trading fort circa 1846, as well as three community streets from Edmonton’s past: 1885 Street, 1905 Street, and 1920 Street. Costumed performers and staff are found in many of the buildings and happily answer questions and share stories from Edmonton’s history. If taking Via Rail from BC wasn’t enough to quench our thirst for rail travel, a steam train transports visitors around Fort Edmonton. It could’ve felt a little hokey, but the Fort did a great job in providing visual insights of how Europeans settled into Canada’s wilderness.

Inside Fort Edmonton.

Inside Fort Edmonton.

Despite being known as “Festival City” Signy and I managed to hit Edmonton in the one week of summer without a festival. But we found some local musical talent in El Cortez Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar, and a John A. Macdonald doppelganger in the Confederation Lounge of the Fairmont Macdonald. Chasing instagram suggestions led us to The Common, a lounge with an attitude. Featuring DJs, locally sourced food and a dance floor, The Common felt like we found Edmonton’s edge, where suits mix with denim.

Travelling with Via Rail allowed us four nights in Edmonton, before The Canadian made its way back from Toronto to Vancouver. Checking in with Via Rail the night before our return trip we found our departure was to be delayed between 12 – 16 hours, a day more than our budget allowed. So after an hour and thirteen minutes in the air and over 1,100km of train track below us, we returned to Vancouver, already missing Edmonton’s joie de vivre.

 

If you go

For all matters tourism, visit Explore Edmonton.

For the latest train details and deals, visit Via Rail.

For a trip back in time, visit Fort Edmonton.

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Written by nevjudd

August 17, 2015 at 11:43 am

2 Responses

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  1. looks like a cool trip…I’m digging those crazy vegetable dishes.

    Trevor

    August 17, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    • To quote the author: “You can never have too many vegetable dishes.”

      nevjudd

      August 17, 2015 at 1:11 pm


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