Day 14: Cold – But Cool – Calgary

Ok, so the weather was overcast, drizzly, and foggy again this morning but no more snow had shaken loose, so that was the good news.  Over breakfast we discussed our day’s strategy and settled on driving out to Olympic Park (built for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics) first and then coming back downtown to check it out.  We were hoping by that point the fog would have lifted so we’d be able to see past the 5th floor.  Otherwise, our lasting imagine of Calgary would be of a short and squat city.

Ready for sponsors. Anyone?

Ready for sponsors. Anyone?

Olympic Park is only about 15 minutes from downtown and is home to an activity we wanted to make sure not to miss: luging.  Rumor had it this was the World’s Longest Luge Track, running over 1,800m (5,900 ft) long and descending over 100m (328 ft).  We have luged twice before (in Germany and Poland), and consider ourselves to be borderline professional.  But this was the big leagues now.

When we arrived the parking lot was almost empty and we were able to park up close.  Huh, why wasn’t everyone in town flocking to luge in -1C (30F) foggy, drizzly weather?  We were the only customers there amid the legion of employees who were not nearly as thrilled to be outside.  And, as luck would have it, Skyline Luge was running a Thanksgiving special of 3 rides for $20 each.  Well, Happy Canadian Thanksgiving to us.

We affixed helmets to our heads and boarded the chair lift for the ride to the top, the temperature notably dropping as we got higher.  At the top, a couple of employees had to knock the snow off of 2 luges before we could board them, remarking that they didn’t know why they were even open today, as the company was most certainly losing money.  Yes, but you are making priceless memories, my friend, and we’re glad you’re here.  We each sat down on a wet and cold seat and then were given a luge driving lesson.  Clearly our luging prowess did not precede us.

Perfect form

Perfect form

And then we were off.  Jim took the lead, as he is the speed demon in the group.  Besides, he wasn’t trying to drive and take photos.  About halfway down the track I whizzed past him, and found out later he was having a bit of a technical difficulty with his luge.  I kind of felt badly I didn’t stop to help, but luging is not a team sport and it was every (wo)man for herself.

After Jim reached the bottom we immediately hopped onto the chairlift to do it again in spite of the fact all of our extremities were frozen solid and our bottoms were soaked.  Jim needed a clean run.  Once again we sat on wet seats but this time we were given no instruction.  I’m not sure if it was because the staff was so impressed with our abilities or because we were the only ones there and they just happened to remember they’d just given us a lesson 9 minutes earlier, but we were turned loose again.  This time Jim had a clean run and I know I improved upon my track speed from before.

Bobsledding: every budding lugers dream

Bobsledding: every budding luger’s dream next step

Fresh with luging excitement, although unwilling to do it a third time because man, it was cold out there and why were they even open?, we warmed up inside for a few minutes before wandering around the Olympic Plaza and checking out more of the grounds.  Nearby was an ice arena, and we happened upon a kid’s hockey tournament.  We watched some of the action on the 3 hockey rinks and then watched some ice lugers practicing their starts on a short indoor refrigerated track.  It was a really nice facility and had a lot to offer.

Back in the car, we headed for downtown.  The clouds had actually dropped farther and visibility was challenging.  After accidentally driving down a bus/train only street (never seen so many excitable Calgarians), we found a parking garage and safely tucked the car away.  Calgary has an incredibly nice feature called the Plus 15, which is a pedestrian walkway that connects most of downtown’s buildings via a skywalk system.  It’s called the Plus 15 because the skywalks are located approximately 15 feet off the ground, which is kind of strange because since when did we measure in feet here?  But the important thing is you can scoot around most of downtown completely ensconced in a dry, temperature-controlled environment, and today was the kind of day that proves how useful it is.

Riverfront pathway

Riverfront pathway

After getting our bearings we headed toward the Core Shopping Centre, which was about a 10 minute walk via the Plus 15 through vacant office buildings.  We reached the mall and I was excited because this was home to the Devonian Gardens, a 2.5 acre indoor park with thousands of subtropical trees, plants, shrubs, fish, turtles, waterfalls, fountains, and a reflecting pool.  Sounds really cool, doesn’t it?  Well, it is closed.  Closed for renovation until winter.

Dejected, I moped along the halls of the mall, saying to Jim, what are the odds?, and was all sad and… wait a minute, is that a poutine stand?  Like a magpie, my attention was drawn to the French fry stand selling poutine, which is a Canadian delicacy and one I’d been wanting to try.  It’s comprised of French fries covered in gravy and cheese curds.  Jim wanted no part of it.  And they were… interesting.  I’m glad to have tried it, but they are a bit like having the chicken pox – something you only need to get once.

Peace Bridge emerging from the fog

Peace Bridge emerging from the fog

After the snack I was feeling better about life and we mall-walked up and down each floor before walking back to the car via the Plus 15.  It was urban hiking, where you get to control the elevation changes.  Our next stop was to drive up to the riverfront, where we parked next to Eau Claire Market and walked along the waterfront pathway down to the Peace Bridge before turning around and walking through Prince’s Island Park on the way back.  Next we popped into the Eau Claire Market, which was an eclectic mix of food court, a fruit stand, and lots of little stores trying to out-waft each other with their smells of burning incense.

Even through the fog we have gotten the feeling downtown Calgary is very livable and we really like it.  There are a ton of residential buildings (and almost each unit has a balcony, which we imagine gets a lot of use during the 3 viable weather months a year), biking and walking paths, greenspace, and it is all very clean.  The people have been ever-so-friendly (which has been the case all over Canada); I don’t think we’ve ever been asked so many times, Where’ya from?  And then there’s the Plus 15, which is a dream to this indoorsy gal.

Downtown Calgary is back there somewhere

Downtown Calgary is back there somewhere

We took the long way back to the hotel to drive past the Saddledome (where the Flames play hockey), but could barely see it in the fog and decided that was that, we were going to go back to the hotel for a rest.  All this urban hiking had worn us out.

Around 7:30pm we rallied and went for a delicious Indian meal at Mango Shiva on the popular Stephen Avenue.  The food and service were both outstanding and we left very full and all smiles.  It was a great way to end our too-short time in Calgary.

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