Oct 15

Peddling through the Prairies: Explore Edmonton and Calgary by Bike

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI guess it makes sense that the prairies are so utterly cycle-friendly: flat, wide open spaces and oh, those endless skies. I got to spend some time in Alberta recently on trips to Calgary and Edmonton, both cities that I’d always associated with gleaming high rises and traffic-packed downtown cores. Turns out I was wrong: there’s plenty of green space and winding rivers in both cities and good cycling to be found in both.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI took a tour around Calgary, freewheeling across bridges and pedalling through the recently opened St Patrick’s Island Park, a gorgeous newly renovated leafy space in the  middle of the Bow River, with hiking and biking trails and killer views across the city’s skyline.

in Edmonton I cycled the River Valley Trails and had to stop a dozen or more times to take photographs of the lush parkland all around me. It was the start of fall; the seasons were sliding from one to the next and the trees blazed with their autumn finest.  I love it when I’m genuinely surprised by a city –and to have two such similar experiences in a matter of days delighted me. It always reminds me: forget what you think you know – go find out for sure what things are really like. IMG_0506

I travelled with support from Destination Canada and Travel Alberta. For further information check out Tourism Calgary and Tourism Edmonton.




Oct 14

Crossing Canada By Train… Again

train1I don’t know when it stopped being grey outside. Lost in the passing landscape I looked up to see blazing blue skies peeking out from a blanket of grey and white cloud. Cows stood sociably together in a field to chew the cud and flick their tails against the flies. The storm had been exhilarating to watch from my train compartment: the rain thrummed against the windows, the sky bruised black and the clouds raced us on our journey.

train4I’d got on at Winnipeg and asked the steward for my bed to be put down. This wasn’t my first time on board ‘The Canadian’ train which chugs its way between Toronto and Vancouver. The last time I’d travelled had been in 2010 and I’d fallen in love with the Canada beyond my windows. The shining lakes of Ontario giving way to the endless flat land and shimmering corn fields of the prairies before the great tah-dah! moment of jaw-dropping beauty as the train rolls through the Rocky Mountains of Alberta and British Columbia. No, I wanted to see it all again, curled up against pillows and snuggled in a blanket.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA To travel on VIA Rail is to step into a bubble away from the rest of the world, often – thankfully – there is no wifi, those work emails can’t be checked even if you wanted to. Instead there is time to sit and think and watch the world go by. There’s a kind of Holiday Camp cheeriness onboard: live performances in the lounge car from musicians who get a free ride in exchange for their songs, guided tastings of Canadian wine and even a movie night. You find yourself, for the first time in decades, musing over where a jigsaw piece goes in the huge puzzle that’s left out for passengers to complete. Over meals in the dining car you exchange snippets of your life story with strangers from around the world. Train Life, in short, becomes a little more contemplative, a little more self-indulgent and a little more gracious. No wonder people love it.

train3For me, also, it’s feeling that sense of great distance and being amazed afresh at the thought of those first Europeans who tried to make their way across this vast land. Of course, the more I learn of First Nations history, the more that feeling is wrapped up in regret and remorse. We Brits – and the French – have more to say sorry for than I could ever begin to write. But when I see this great land it’s impossible for the heart not to leap and thoughts of adventure and exploration not to immediately percolate through your brain. I love to see how truly huge Canada is: to look at its soaring mountains, its innumerable lakes, the relentless tangle of forest and oh! that endless flat prairie land. To choose to take hours, days to make a journey nowadays is a kind of wonderful indulgence but it’s one that I’d say gives a destination a special sort of meaning.

I travelled as a guest of Via Rail but, as ever, my words are 100% my own.

More info:

. VIARail [Official Site]

Jul 13

Calgary: Open for business


From @ballen29 "Calgary in a nutshell. #Proud"

From @ballen29 “Calgary in a nutshell. #Proud”

I don’t know how much people in the UK have heard about the recent flooding in Alberta, but it’s been a tragedy for the city of Calgary with freak flooding claiming the lives of four and tens of thousands of residents evacuated from their homes as a state of emergency was declared across the city.  Shocking pictures of the famous Saddledome stadium showed the water had risen ten rows deep and the Stampede ground was flooded. Yet within these scenes of devastation, Calgarians have shown themselves to be bold and determined, because unbelievably the Calgary Stampede, the ‘Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth’ has gone ahead and Calgary has declared itself open for business.

Dazzling rodeo skills

Dazzling rodeo skills

Only a few of the planned events have been cancelled – the Saddledome isn’t in any shape to hold concerts right now – but all the traditional fun of the Stampede is still going ahead – and Calgarians need you to visit to show your support. Watch cowboys and livestock being put through their paces in the Stampede Rodeo at the Grandstand, from penning to barrel racing – this show has it all.

Fancy something more sedate? Then check out the ‘dancing’ shire horse shows, where beautiful Clydesdale, Percheron and Shire horses move to the music of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.The food on the Midway is legendary – if it’s deep-fried and on a stick – it’ll be there… and yes, that means deep-fried butter, double-bacon deep-fried corndogs and even chocolate-covered bacon.

If you can’t make it to the event which runs till the 14th July, then show your love and buy a ‘Hell or High Water‘ T-shirt. That’s what I did. Impressively, the t-shirts have raised more than $500,000 so far, which will all go directly to the Canadian Red Cross Alberta Floods Fund.

"My annual: I'm on a horse. Tweeting."

“My annual: I’m on a horse. Tweeting.”

One last reason to visit the Stampede – as well as those gorgeous cowboys, you may get chance to see Canada’s new heartthrob, Mayor Naheed Nenshi who has won effusive praise from every corner of Canada for the compassionate and take-charge way that he’s handled the crisis. This, from the Globe and Mail explains why: “He worked for 43 straight hours: tweeting, imploring, directing, assisting, cheering on and cheering up residents who saw homes ruined and possessions literally float away. He was cheerleader, director, benevolent scolder. ‘Help your neighbours, he exhorted, be it with a shovel or a ride. Hug your emergency providers.’ His new “home” became the back seat of helicopters or in front of news cameras. He provided updates several times a day – one in the middle of the night. He used Twitter to get the word out. Well-wishers finally started a social media movement to get him to go home and take a nap.

For full Calgary Stampede listings see the official website ( and for the latest on travel across Alberta and the latest news on the recovery efforts across the province, visit the travel update page

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