Edmonton – Fall 2020

Two weeks ago Julie and I decided to get away from the city for the weekend. I’ve been wanting to go to Edmonton, Alberta’s capital city, for quite some time as the city hosts plenty of well preserved architecture. Julie’s colleagues at work also recommended her quite a few restaurants to visit while we were there.

We left Saturday morning around 9:00am and proceeded North towards Edmonton. First stop was the Reynolds Museum in Wetaskiwin, about two hours North.

The Reynolds Museum was conceived by Stan Reynolds, who had already amassed a large collection of agricultural machinery, airplanes, and automobiles during the mid 1900’s. By 1992 he had donated over 850 artifacts to the Government of Alberta. The province opened up the Reynolds Museum to exhibit these items on September 12th 1992. By the time that Reynolds passed away in 2012 he had donated over 1500 artifacts. Currently over 6600 artifacts belong to the collection, with the majority of them held in the museum’s storage facility.

Stan Reynolds was born on May 18th 1923. He started his career in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942 and served in Great Britain as part of the night-fighter squadron. He became one of the youngest pilots to fly Beaufighters and Mosquitos. After World War 2 he was discharged from the air force and returned to Wetaskiwin, where he started selling used cars and become one of the most successful automotive dealerships in Alberta. Reynolds repaired and pained the cars himself and studied for his welding and auto mechanics licenses. Between 1946 and 1958 he operated 13 used car lots. As his business grew he expanded to sell new and used trucks, farm machinery, industrial equipment, house trailers, and even airplanes!

Reynolds recognized the growing important of aviation and needed a place to land his plane so he built and operated the Wetaskiwin airport until he transferred it to the City and County of Wetaskiwin in 1969. He sold the airfield for $30,000 for less than half the market value, and in return he was given perpetual free use of the airstrip and taxi trip between the airport and his property.

As his business grew, so did his collection. One of his business slogans was ‘Stan Takes Anything In Trade’. By 1992 he had donated over 850 artifacts to the Government of Alberta and by the time he passed away in 2012 he had donated over 1500 artifacts.

Motoring started in Alberta in 1906 when the Alberta Government passed the first motor vehicle act. Vehicle owners had to register their cars with the provincial secretary for $2. They were then allowed to travel at 10 kph in settled areas, and 20 kph in rural areas. They were held responsible for damages in any accident with a horse drawn carriage. In 1911 the act was revised to give horse-drawn vehicles the upper hand by requiring motorists to slow down when passing a horse, or even stop when requested by a wagon or buggy driver. The act also required motor vehicles to have “adequate brakes” and a horn, gong, or bell. By 1911 there were over 1500 motorized vehicles on Alberta rodes and the horse-drawn carriage era was coming to an end.

Early vehicles were right-hand drive, a direct carry-over from horse drawn carriages. Many cars had leaf springs and wooden spoked wheels like their carriage counterparts.

One of my favorite cars from the collection is the 1929 Duesenberg Model J. The car was donated to the museum on December 21st 1993. Bernand and Joan Aaron drove across Canada to deliver the automobile to the museum. The vehicle had over 20 owners by the time it was donated. Only 470 Model J’s were produced between 1929 and 1937. The original price tag was roughly $20,000 USD in 1929, which equates to roughly $305,000 USD today.

The rest of the museum featured cars from the early days of motoring up to about the 1970’s. My second favourite part of the museum is the old fashioned art deco style gas station with the cars displayed out front.

After spending a good two hours in the museum we drove to Leduc to have lunch at Vietnam Paradise Restaurant. We both had sate beef pho. It was decent, but a little oily for my taste.

After having lunch we drove to downtown Edmonton, where I ended up parking my car at the Art Gallery of Alberta so that we could walk around. The Art Gallery of Alberta was established in 1924 as the Edmonton Museum of Arts. In 1956 the museum was renamed the Edmonton Art Gallery. Between 1924 and 1969 the museum occupied a number of locations until it was relocated to its present location in 1969. The building was originally a brutalistic style building until it underwent a $88 million redevelopment from 2007 to 2010. The building has a collection of over 6000 pieces of art work.

We walked around downtown exploring various old buildings such as the Kelly Building, Churchill Wire Centre, The McLeod Building, Fairmont Hotel MacDonald, and the 100 Street Funicular.

The Kelly Ramsey Building was built by blacksmith John Kelly. The building, owned by James Ramsey, was built because James required more space for his department store. After Kelly’s death in 1926 John purchased the building for $100,000. He added an extension to his ever-growing business. IN the 1940’s the Government of Alberta purchased the building, until it was purchased by Worthington Properties. In 2009 a fire broke out and destroyed most of the interior of the building. It was later determined that arson was involved, and a man was arrested. In 2013 the building was demolished and replaced by the 25-storey Enbridge Center, which recreated the original building facades on the tower’s podium.

The Churchill Wire Centre, also known as the Telephone Building, was built between 1945 and 1947. It is an excellent example of the Stripped Classicism style of architecture, which is a subset of the Moderne style. The two and a half storey granite and terrazzo clad structure is a great example of the early use of prefabricated exterior components, and was designed by Edmonton’s former city architect Maxwell Dewar.

The McLeod Building is a nine-storey building that was built between 1913 and 1915. It was designed in the Chicago Commercial style, and is the only remaining terracotta-clad building in Edmonton. The building reflects the Edwardian-era architectural influences that were prevalent in Edmonton at the time. The Edwardian-era is a spinoff of neo-classicism that was reinvented at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, which became very popular in American cities in the early twentieth century. The building was designed after the Polson Block in Spokane Washington, and was designed by the same architect, J.K. Dow.

The Fairmont Hotel MacDonald was designed by architect’s Ross and MacFarlene and was constructed for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in 1915. The hotel which stands 48 metres (156 feet) tall and contains 11 floors and overlooks the North Saskatchewan River. When the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway went bankrupt its management was taken over by Canadian National Hotels, before being sold to Canadian Pacific Hotels in 1988. Today it it currently run by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts. The hotel has undergone several renovations and expansions, including an expansion wing that was added in 1953. In 1983, Canadian National Hotels ceased operations, and the expansion wing was also demolished. The design of the building was inspired by designs found on French Renaissance architectural-era chateaus and features pitched sloped roofs which include chimneys, finials, and turrets. The façade of the building is made from Indiana limestone.

Out front I saw a beautiful Mercedes C Class sedan outside the front of the hotel. I feel this image could be featured on a Mercedes ad campaign.

The 100 Street Funicular is a newly built funicular in front of the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald, which has a staircase that runs alongside it, brings people from 100 Street by the hotel to the area around the Low Level Bridge. The funicular, which cost $24 million, was designed by DIALOG, and opened in 2017.

After walking around it was time for dinner. We moved the car and parked it outside the Neon Sign Museum, which is an open-air display of historic neon signs. We walked to Sabor Restaurant, a Tapa’s style restaurant, where we ordered Piri Piri Prawns, Seared Fresh Scallops, Pork Belly, Spinach Salad, and some drinks. Julie had a glass of red wine, and I had some local pale ale beer.

After dinner we drove to our hotel, the Four Points by Sheraton Edmonton West. I obtained the room for only $40 as I had a $60 Hotels.com voucher that I needed to use before it expired. Even so, the hotel was very inexpensive compared to normal due to COVID-19 really hurting the hospitality industry. You can really find a bargain on hotels at the moment. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and watching television before going to bed.

The next morning we woke up around 8:30am. We got dressed and went to a nearby McDonald’s for breakfast. I had an Egg McMuffin and Julie had two hashbrowns. We also both ordered coffee’s. We had about an hour of time to kill before we met up with my friend Heather, who I hadn’t seen in many years. Heather and I used to work together at Golder Associates, before we both decided to pursue different career paths.

We explored the Oliver Exchange Building, the Alberta Legislature Building, the Federal Building, and Edmonton Public Library – Jasper Place, and The Gibson Block Building.

The Oliver Exchange Building is a two-storey wood and brick structure that was designed by Allan Merrick Jeffers, one of the architects responsible for the Alberta Legislature building. The building was built in 1913 and was one of the most unique telephone building in Canada because it was highly automated. Instead of staffed pull-and-plug switchboards, it featured state-of-the-art automated switching equipment to keep up with the growing demands of the city. The building was purchased and renovated in 2016 and currently houses a bunch of boutique shops.

The Federal Building was built in 1958 to house the Western Canadian offices of the Government of Canada. It was sold to the Government of Alberta in 1988 and sat vacant until 2020. The building was first proposed in the 1930’s but construction didn’t start until 1955. This Art Deco building took its inspiration from the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, located in New York City.

The Gibson Block Building, also known as the Flatiron Building, is a large wedge-shaped four-storey brick building, which resembles a mini version of New York’s Flatiron building. The building was designed by William Gibson and was constructed in 1913. The building was originally built to provide first floor retail space, with offices on the remaining floors. The building was used for a variety of different things over the years, including the Turkish Baths, which were closed in 1978.

We met with Heather at Earls for lunch and had some great conversation before saying bye. It was great to catch up with Heather after all these years.

After lunch we drove to old Strathcona, where we walked around and explored all the old buildings, as well as got some candy from a store called Rocket Fizz. We then had a quick stop at Situation Brewing for a quick pint before heading home towards Calgary. For dinner we stopped in Red Deer for Vietnamese food at Vietnamese Garden.

What’s in store for me next? I’m not entirely sure as COVID-19’s second wave is here, and there is rumours of another lockdown coming soon. I will most likely focus on my drone photography skills over the winter time, and we also hope to travel to Northern Alberta to have a chance of seeing the Northern Lights (Aurora). Be sure to check back from time to time to see what I’m up to. Until next time…

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Belgium – Brussels – Day 1 of 2

Today was the start of another travel adventure. This adventure involves Belgium, Luxembourg and Czech Republic.

My first stop was Brussels, Belgium via Amsterdam. I boarded my KLM Airbus A330-200 flight to Amsterdam at 2:20pm. The flight departed on time at 3:10pm. Flight time was roughly 9 hours gate to gate and went quite smoothly. There was free WiFi in the flight so I ended up chatting with a few friends. The flight arrived at 7:30am the following day.

I was supposed to have a quick 50 minute layover before boarding my next flight, but it ended up being almost 2 hours due to a technical fault. The original plane (an Embraer ERJ-190) was swapped for a Boeing 737-800. Flight time was roughly 45 minutes gate to gate.

After landing in Brussels I caught the train to the inner city for €8.90 ($11.70 CDN). After arriving at Brussels Central Station I visited St. Michael and St Gudula Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church in Gothic architecture style. The Cathedral was started sometime in the 9th Century but wasn’t completed until 1519.

The next stop was the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert, a spectacular covered alleyway built by architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer completed in 1847. The gallery includes shops auditoriums, cafes, restaurants and apartments. I decided to visit Maison Danboy, a renowned bakery chain, where I ordered some delicious lemon and ginger cookies.

Next up was the Grand Place and surrounding Grand Square. The history of the Grand Palace started in the 11th and 12th Century, when a building was built on Coudenberg hill to house the Dukes of Brabant. Over the next few centuries the building was rebuilt, extended and improved to align with the increased prestige of the Dukes of Braband and their successors. The complex was destroyed in 1731 by a large fire and was eventually rebuilt in 1775. During this time excavations of the site unearthed various remains of different parts of the original palace as well as surrounding town. The monumental vaults still remain under the square and can be visited.

Next stop was a quick stop at the Brussels Stock Exchange, a beautiful building designed by architect Léon-Pierre Suys. The building was completed on the site of a former butter market in 1873 and housed the Brussels Stock Exchange until 1996. The building has since been transformed to a museum.

I then stumbled upon the Brussels Les Halles Saint-Géry, a former covered market that was completed in 1881. The market now houses Brussels Vintage Market, which is a collection of 40 vintage and second-hand merchants and more than 20 designers.

At this point in time I was starting to get hungry so I started to seek out some food at the well renowned Tonton Garby, but more on that in a minute. On my way to Tonton Garby I stopped at a famous fountain of a young boy peeing called “Manneken Pis”. Okay now onto Tonton Garby; the best way to describe this place is it has the most delicious sandwiches being served up by one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my entire life. I was recommended this place by numerous blogs and YouTube videos, so I figured it had to be good; I was not disappointed. While I was eating my sandwich I met a wonderful couple from the Rochester area in the US. They had just recently gotten married and are travelling the world together. We chatted for a bit before going our separate ways.

Next up was a few other sights before visiting the Place Royale and Royal Palace. Place Royale, also known as the King’s Square, is a historic neoclassical square in the Royal Quarter that was completed in 1782 as part of an urban project.

The Royal Palace is situated in front of Brussles Park and was designed by multiple architects including Chislain-Joseph Henry, Charles Vander Straeten, Tilman-François Suys, Alphonse Balat, Henri Maquet, and Octave Flanneau. Construction started in 1783, but wasn’t completed until 1934 when the new facade was finally completed. The impressive facade is 50% longer than that of Buckingham Palace in Great Britain, but it has less than half of the square footage of Buckingham Palace.

My energy levels were starting to dwindle so I walked towards my Hotel; Hotel Retro, a cozy mid-range boutique hotel. Before checking into the hotel I checked out the beautiful Le Botanique conservatory.

Check-in was very seamless. I was placed in Room 501, a penthouse room at the top with wonderful skylights overlooking the city. I decided to take a 3 hour nap before continuing on my grand adventure.

After waking up from my nap I was feeling much refreshed and ready to do more exploring. I walked to the nearby Metro station and boarded a train to the University area where I took a bunch of pictures of some beautiful buildings; one in particular caught my eye; Villa Empain. Villa Empain was built in 1934 by swiss architect Michel Polak in the Art Deco style. As many of you may know from reading previous blog posts of mine; I’m a huge sucker for Art Deco.

It was time to get some dinner so I walked towards Flagey square, where there was a beautiful building and somewhere I wanted to eat called Frit Flagey. Unfortunately at this time is when a group of men tried to rob me, but I managed to escape through some alleyways. Never in my 38 countries of travel have I had an attempted robbery. I’m a fairly careful person but they surrounded me so quickly as I was trying to take a photo of the Art Deco style Flagey building.

I walked around for a bit and came back to Flagey square about 45 minutes lated to eat at Frit Flagey; I was not disanointed. I then obtained some beers from a local beer store called Melting Pot. The gentleman recommended me a few beers to try.

I then took a bus back to my hotel where I enjoyed my beers, edited photos, and typed up my blog.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when I explore Brussels in further detail!

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2018-03-19 – Barcelona

Today I woke up at around 8:00am without an alarm clock. I walked down the street to a local cafe just simply titled as “365”. I had a delicious seedy bagel with Brie cheese, smoked salmon and what I think was arugula, almond with a croissant and two Americano coffees. I needed two as one was simply not enough to get me going today.
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After breakfast I went back to the hotel room to pack, placed my bag into a locker at the hotel, and took the metro to Sagrada Família. Construction of Sagrada Família started in 1882 (136 years ago) and is scheduled to be completed in 2028. The architect Fransico de Paula del Villar started the project and Antoni Gaudi took over as chief architect only one year after construction started. Gaudi devoted almost his entire remainder of his life to the project until his death in 1926 at the age of 73 when he was hit by a tram. Construction was slow because it relied solely on private donations, and then was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War for a period of time.
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After visiting Sagrada Família I went and checked out a few other Gaüdi buildings and Barcelona’s Arc du Triumph before returning to the hotel to grab my bag from the locker before taking the R2 regional train to the airport, as this allowed me to use my 72 hour transit pass instead of having to pay again to use the Airport Express Bus. I should have just taken the train when I arrived as it was much better and cheaper than the airport bus, but hey that’s a lesson learned.
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I arrived at the airport a bit early so I had some food and a beer before hoping onboard my Joon (Air France) flight. This is a new spin-off hip airline similar to our own Air Canada Rouge, but in my opinion it’s much better as there is more leg room and the staff are nicer and presented better.
The Nomad Hotel I was staying at was a short complimentary shuttle ride from Charles De Gaulle airport. The hotel was very futuristic with a tablet controlling everything from the lighting, air conditioning, and projection television to displaying how much water I used and how much I had left. The bed was also exceptionally comfortable.
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