Sunday, February 15, 2009
Banff and Calgary - Day 5
After a standard morning wakeup routine, Kevin suggested a walking tour route and offered to drive me to where I would start my tour. He was going to play ultimate with his friends a bit later on, so he also gave me the keys to the apartment in case I needed to get back into the apartment before he was back.
After a quick breakfast at Calgary Court in Chinatown, a favourite restaurant of Kevin's for great cheap food and congee, and a quick stop at a park on Memorial Drive NW for a hilltop view of the downtown area with an island park in the foreground, I was dropped off in Kensington, a happening area of Calgary with many small shops, restaurants, and bars. Keven wrote the summary of my route on a parking receipt he found on his car after we realized I wouldn't remember all the places I should visit. As I forgot to bring my paper and pen with me, I stopped off at a Shoppers Drug Mart where I picked up the cheapest writing equipment I can find, a pack to two Bic pens and a pad of Post-Its. After making sure I have a means to record my day, I went about the next important piece of business, finding a map.
After a bit of searching through bookstores, I came across the City of Calgary Parks and Recreation Outdoor Information Centre located in the historic Kensington Fire Hall. There, I talked to a very friendly and soft spoken agent who fit the "Prairie farmer" stereotype very well. He was bearing a dark green shirt with buttons and wearing a baseball cap of a similar colour with the Calgary logo on it, which reminded me of a John Deere cap. He had the appearance of a hearty, old grandfather and had a large, glowing dimpled nose, the kind that some get from drinking too much. He happily offered me a free map from Calgary Transit that had a map of the region as well as a map of the downtown core, along with all the tram and bus lines. It was perfect. I took it, and after biding each other a pleasant day, I decided to walk back to the centre of Kensington to sit at a bar to plan my day over a drink.
After a short walk, I arrived at the Kensington Pub, which was suggested to me by someone at the bookstore. I liked it immediately as I entered. It was done in a stereotypical English Pub style. There was a lot of wood panelling inside, and it was rather dark. I immediately went to the bar and asked for what I had came to the pub for: a Caesar. Calgary is the birthplace of this very popular Canadian cocktail that is virtually unknown outside of Canada. It is made by mixing vodka, spices, and Clamato, which is a blend of tomato and clam juices. Although it is very similar to the Bloody Mary, its adherents assured me that without the clam juice in the cocktail, a Bloody Mary just tastes empty like it's missing something compared to the Caesar. In addition to having clam juice as an extra addition compared to the Bloody Mary, most bars also have a habit of garnishing the drink to add their own extra flair. The most interesting Caesar I've heard that you can get in Calgary is garnished with a skewer of pickled vegetables, onions, and sausage, topped off with a layer of fries. My drink was nowhere near as complicated. It came with a pickled asparagus added to the drink, and it was delicious.
After getting the drink, I sat on a small table by the window and pulled out my map and the parking receipt on which Kevin wrote the places I should see. I tore out the small portion of the map showing the zoomed-in view of downtown, and started to plan a route. At the same time, I pulled put my pad of sticky notes to record my trip so far. The waitress from the bar came over and asked me if I wanted anything to eat. Although I was quite full from breakfast, I noticed they had poutine of the menu which I couldn't resist. Poutine, a Quebec speciality, are fries covered in cheese curds and smothered in gravy, and is one of the foods I must eat every time I go back to Canada. After placing my order I suddenly realized that I forgot to leave a tip when I got my drink. I was really embarrassed, but since it was the same waitress, I decided just to leave the drink tip along with my food bill.
As I was sitting there marking my map while happily sipping on my drink and occasionally nibbling on the asparagus, my poutine arrived. I was horrified when I saw it. Although it was huge, it didn't have cheese curds on it! In the place of cheese curds, there was shredded yellow and white cheddar and it was baked. This was nearly as bad as the "Canadian Chips" I tried to order in an American pub once when I was actively searching for poutine in the US, which replaced the cheese curds with melted shredded yellow cheddar. Perhaps I should have heeded the warnings of the people I met on the trip who warned me that Western Canada doesn't really eat that much poutine. I also should have clued in when the menu said this dish was their "twist" on a dish from their "friends out East." In any case, I did end up enjoying my "faux-tine", but I still have not obtained my poutine fix for this trip which I had been looking forward to fixing as soon as I booked my flight.