An Adventure in Alberta

A few weeks ago, a friend and I took a short trip out of Edmonton. We left late on a Thursday evening, and were back home by late afternoon on Saturday. This little trip was a lot of fun, and I have to say that I enjoyed being a tourist without going far from home!

We left without much of a plan, except for wanting to hit an AJHL hockey game in Brooks, Alberta on Friday night. The rest of the time, we just went with the flow. At my last job, I spent a bit of time travelling around Alberta, but I never really had much time to do any sightseeing. It was nice to stop and take a picture of whatever struck our fancy along the way, such as this lovely bird that you can find in Hanna – the home of Nickelback… Alberta is so proud.
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We stopped many places along the way – from Galahad (a medieval -themed village I picked off of the map), to a mining interpretive site (which was literally on the side of a back highway), to Dinosaur Provincial Park (one of the richest areas in the world as far as dinosaur fossils are concerned).
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We finally made our way to Brooks in time for the hockey game and I have to say I was extremely impressed by the production that this small town put on. The arena was beautiful, and clearly the Brooks Bandits are a first class organization, as far as junior hockey is concerned. This game was the season opener, and they had a few banners to raise so the pre-game show was very cool to see. I wish I could go to games here more often!

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The next day, before heading back to Edmonton, we stopped at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, which features a collection of more than 130,000 dinosaur fossils and is actually an important location for palaeontological research. This museum was extremely well-done and informative, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone in the area. I thought that one of the coolest things about seeing all the exhibits was that this area of Alberta really is one of the centers of the dinosaur universe, where many important discoveries have been made.

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After spending a few hours at the museum, it was time to head back to Edmonton. I guess the point of this post is that I wanted to write about how much I enjoyed all of these experiences that were not all that far from home. Having not grown up in Alberta, I haven’t seen many of the things or done many of the activities available here. I always say that I want to travel more, but I also need to keep in mind that there are plenty of exciting and affordable things to experience much closer to home. Whenever I start to really feel the travel bug from now on, I’m going to take a look at the long list of touristy Albertan activities I have not had the chance to do.

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Love KG

Save Me, San Francisco

I’ve been back from San Francisco for a few weeks now, and I’m definitely missing a couple things.

1) Being on vacation
2) Being in California
3) Blogging every day
4) The Pacific Ocean
5) Hanging out at coffee shops

I’m going to stop there… I have a feeling this list could go on and on. I can’t wait to plan my next trip! But while I am still thinking about this one, I wanted to write down a few things that I didn’t get to do in San Francisco that are still on my list. After my time there two years ago, I wrote this post. Going back and reading it now, I’m happy to find that I did many of the things I had picked out. Here it is, with my current comments in black.

Things I want to do when I go back:

Go on an Alcatraz tour (Done!)

Visit Lombard Street (the crookedest street in the world) (I was lucky enough to have Rich drive me right down the street this time)

Explore Golden Gate Park, including the Japanese Tea Garden, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Conservatory of Flowers (I drove through Golden Gate Park with Rich, but didn’t go into any more of these places. This will stay on my list for the future.)

Visit the Exploratorium (Not done yet, but they’ve just moved to a new location and I’m looking forward to visiting it sometime in the future)

Go to Sausalito – explore, go for a walk, have some lunch, and enjoy the sweet views of San Fran (Did not do this yet)

Go to a San Francisco Giants game… I hear the venue is incredible. (Did not do this yet, but toured the stadium – definitely beautiful. Going to a game here is certainly still on my list).

Things I would add to this list for my next San Francisco adventure:

Tour the TCHO chocolate factory.

Visit wine country!

Do a walking tour in Castro and Haight-Ashbury – if this is something you can do!

Look into We Players to see what kind of cool shows are happening.

Visit the Walt Disney Family Museum

And lastly, not something I haven’t done, but something I should do much more of – ride as many pedicabs as I can. They are the best! If you missed out on how much my friend KP and I love them, check her post about it out here.

I’m sure another San Franciscan adventure would result in even more new and exciting activities! I can’t wait to return.

Love KG

Alcatraz, Azkaban… same thing, right?

Do any of you ever have to think twice about whether you are wanting to say “Alcatraz” or “Azkaban” in a conversation? No? Ok, well then. You obviously need to spend more time in the magical world of Harry Potter.

KP recapped our full day on Monday in her post I think it tastes like pickles… A travel story, but I was lucky enough to get the task of writing about our trip to Alcatraz. It was my first time visiting the island that is home to the most famous prison in the world (except for Azkaban, of course) and it was definitely a very cool experience.

As KP mentioned in her post, we did a drive by of Alcatraz on our way to our first stop at Angel Island. Alcatraz is such an iconic place. Cruising by it on the boat made for some amazing views.

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For those of you that don’t know much about Alcatraz Island, it has a very colourful history as a military fort, as a disciplinary barracks, as a maximum security prison, and as a site for a Native American occupation. During the California gold rush in the 1850’s, Alcatraz was built up as a military fort in order to protect the San Francisco Bay Area. Between Fort Point, Lime Point, and Fort Alcatraz, this area was totally protected, though Alcatraz was never really tested. At this time, the first lighthouse on the West coast was built on the island as well. The island quickly evolved into a place of detention in the 1860’s. At this time, prisoners arrested for treason during the Civil War were housed there.

After the San Francisco earth quake of 1906, military prisoners on the island built a new prison, which became a disciplinary barracks for the US Army. It was this new building that eventually became known as “The Rock”. The island was used by the military until 1933, when it was acquired by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to build a maximum-security prison for housing the most difficult inmates from other prisons. This is the Alcatraz that has become famous today.

At Alcatraz, prisoners had rights to food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention. Anything else that they received was considered to be a privilege and not expected. Over the years, there were several escape attempts from Alcatraz, but it is not confirmed that any of them were successful. No man is known to have made it to land, but there are still 5 prisoners listed as “missing and presumed drowned”.

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Alcatraz shut down in 1963, and the island was essentially abandoned until 1969, when a group of Native Americans claimed it as “Indian Land”. They occupied the area for about 18 months, until they were removed by Federal Marshals. Though they were not able to keep Alcatraz, this did lead to the government returning some land to Native Americans across the country. In 1972, Alcatraz was included as part of the newly created Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Since then, it has become one of the most popular national parks in the USA. If you are interested in reading more about the history of Alcatraz, you can do so here.

Upon arriving on the island, we got a bit of an introduction by one of the park rangers, then we were turned loose. KP and I immediately walked up the hill to the cell block to do the audio tour included in any landing on Alcatraz Island. I have to say, the audio tour was amazingly well done. It included voices and stories from past Alcatraz inmates and guards, as well as all sorts of excellent background noises and ambiance. Not to mention, there were many displays with photos throughout the course of the tour. It was crazy to hear the voices of hardened criminals and be able to stare right into their faces as they were discussing their time at Alcatraz. It was also pretty surreal to be able to see the cells these men lived in, usually for years.

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The audio tour also detailed two different escape attempts, and we were able to look right into the cells where guards were killed, and right at the holes in the back of a couple cells, dug by inmates using spoons. We also got to see the tool that one man used to pry the bars apart during an attempt that became known as the Battle of Alcatraz. It was surreal to stand in the very place that all of these things happened.

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One of the most interesting things I learned during my time on Alcatraz was that the prison guards and their families actually lived right on the island. A woman who lived on Alcatraz as a child spoke on the audio tour and told the story of how she would take a boat to school on the mainland in the morning and return in the evening. She never even thought about the prisoners as they were locked away safely and didn’t make much noise.

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After the audio tour, we made our way down the hill toward the dock and found a lovely little hallway with a theatre and several exhibits off of it.

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Before long, we were ready to head back to the mainland to continue our day. Again, here is the post that details the rest of Monday, our last full day in San Francisco.

Love KG

We Made Hostel Friends!

Despite the fact that the attempt to bond with our first set of roommates was an epic fail, KP and I did end up coming out of the weekend with some hostel friends. Also, with some new information: Apparently getting drunk off a combination of wine and tequila does not, in fact, lead to a hangover – I know, I was shocked too.

While sitting around in the common area, drinking wine and blogging last night, we had a set of girls sit down to eat dinner at the rather large table we had taken over. Before long, a pair of guys came to sit with them, mentioning that they wanted to sit with their roommates. KP and I were overtaken with jealousy as we saw the relationship we had tried so hard to create for ourselves earlier in our adventures flourishing right before our eyes. It was a beautiful thing.

We started to join in the conversation with the group as they were just too infectiously hilarious and awesome not to. Before long, we felt the need to tell them about our previous roommate fail, and ask if they felt that we had maybe come on too strong. “Are you kidding? We would have dropped everything to come and meet you!” was the immediate response from one of the guys, followed closely by “Please continue to do this wherever you stay in the future – seriously! It would probably work 99% of the time”. And thus, the ice was broken.

We continued to hang out downstairs, drinking the magical “delicately bubbled” wine I blogged about the other day and the tequila the boys had provided, all the while laughing and learning about each of our different home countries and cultures. The girls were from Switzerland, the boys from Australia, and of course, KP and I are from Canada. It was quite the group and we had many topics to compare between each of our countries. This was exactly the type of experience I was looking forward to having during my first time staying at a hostel.

The rest of the night was spent getting to know each other and dancing the night away at a bar that was playing Motown music. It was the perfect way to end off my time in San Francisco.

This morning, we left our new friends this note:

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So, to Ivan, Kevin, Isabelle, and Marisa of room 311 – if you are reading this, thank you! You are all amazing people and KP & I are very glad you sat down at our table last night. Good luck in all your future adventures in San Francisco and elsewhere – let us know if you ever make your way to Alberta! We will definitely drop each of you a blog post (that’s right, no other form of communication is more appropriate) if we are ever in your area. Don’t expect any prior notice – it will only include our plans for the evening and a map of how to get there 🙂

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Love KG

“Why are people stopping? Oh, churros! That’s allowed.”

The event coordinator in me really feels the need to write this post. The other night, KP and I went to a ball game in Oakland, which you can read about here. This post is not about the game itself, but about the trip home. Or rather, the walk out of the stadium onto the BART train. I know this sounds like a weird thing to write an entire blog post about, but I swear it was just so darn impressive.

When the post-game fireworks show ended, I was dreading the trek out of the building and onto the train. There was only one relatively narrow pedway across to the train station, and I had horrible visions of how long it would take to get everyone across it. The visions worsened when we realized that they had blocked off the pedway and several hundred people were congregated outside the gate, waiting to be let through. I imagined the pushing, shoving, trampling, and waiting that would ensue once the gate was open. I thought about the fact that most BART stations only have a couple ticket machines, and only a few narrow gates to go through individually with your ticket. I tried to figure out how many trains would pass by before we would finally get on one. Friends, all these worries were completely unfounded, and I’m still not entirely sure how.

When the pedway opened, people moved steadily through it, with a select few stopping to buy from the churro vendors on either side of the walkway. We barely stopped moving the entire way across, down the stairs, through the BART gates, up the escalator, and onto the waiting train. How did this happen? It seemed everyone had prepurchased their return tickets on the BART (we did too), which removed the issue about the ticket machines, but the rest of it was just impressive. I think they must have timed the opening of the gate on the pedway with when trains would be in the station. Likely they also had increased train frequency during this time, and maybe added cars to any trains already running.

I’m not entirely sure on all the details, but I needed to write this post to express my admiration. The little things like thinking through a guest’s experience when leaving an event can have the greatest impact on how they will remember their night. I will forever remember how painless that trip back to the train was, especially compared to where my expectations were sitting. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything as efficient as how that crowd was handled. Well done, BART.

Love KG