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December 16th 2009
Published: December 16th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

Calgary DowntownCalgary DowntownCalgary Downtown

With Calgary tower in the background. It's minus 30 degrees celcius.
The former rancher town of Calgary is riding that bucking bronco all the way to a prosperous future. There are vast reserves of oil shale in Alberta and the province is booming, while dealing with the associated problems of rapid population growth. Since ancient times, however, man has chased the dream of making a personal fortune, and the oil game is no different to any other. Calgary was the host of the 1988 Winter Olympics, and still respects it’s cowboy traditions which culminates in the raucous Calgary Stampede every summer. Cowtown's annual 10-day Stampede is the greatest outdoor celebration in the world, and it would be great to come and visit during the festival. But on this occasion winter's in full swing, as I rode the Greyhound from Banff to Calgary for two action packed days in the business centre of Alberta province.

I found minus 20 degrees in Banff hard enough, dear reader, and my visit to Calgary coincided with a record December cold snap in the province. Calgary was getting down to minus 30 degrees on both days during my stay. In fact, a few days ago in Edmonton it reached minus 46 degrees, and the city briefly
Canadian Pacific RailwayCanadian Pacific RailwayCanadian Pacific Railway

The iconic company finally opened Canada to travel, and here is an old choo choo in Calgary Downtown.
had the dubious honour of being the coldest place on the planet, even topping Siberia. I guess I should be thankful for small mercies as I wasn’t copping it quite that severe ... but still minus 30 is an experience I won’t forget in a hurry! Fortunately the hostel in Calgary is centrally located, and getting around the centre on a grid is a breeze. I settled into the HI Hostel Calgary after lunch, and dawdled around in the warmth for a few hours before I decided it was time to stop procrastinating. So eventually I plucked up the courage to venture out to explore the booming city in the frigid conditions.

Taking a walk around Calgary in extreme cold is an incredible experience. Of course it requires every layer of clothing at your disposal; whether old or new, whether on the nose or clean. I employed the cunning plan to try to maintain body warmth at all costs. I found it difficult to breath through the nose, and was fascinated to watch other people walk by, as most of the time all you can only see are the eyes and a strip of their face. Nevertheless the Calgarians
Niagara FallsNiagara FallsNiagara Falls

A parnorama of the mighty Horseshoe Falls with tourists right on the edge.
simply get on with their lives, and there's hardly a place on earth where the locals are so fatalistic about extreme weather. All across the country Canadians grow up with the reality of harsh winters, and get on with their lives during the bitter cold snaps as best they can. After walking for a bit I entered a flash downtown restaurant for dinner to leave the cold behind. So anyways, as soon as I walked in I was surprised to see the waitress displaying plenty of cleavage, as she was wearing a low cut dress while greeting her chilly customers. I certainly wasn’t expecting such a pleasant surprise in that type of weather!

I found out later my restaurant visit coincided with a Christmas party; where several girls approached the bar in short dresses, topped off by killer heels. Suddenly I came across almost as much flesh as is on display at a Sydney beach, and it was a surreal experience considering what the locals were dealing with outside. One of my roomies is an interesting guy, who I discovered to my amazement was doing odd jobs outside even in this weather. I had several animated conversations with him,
Neon lights up the darkNeon lights up the darkNeon lights up the dark

Strolling the park at night with christmas lights lighting up Niagara Falls.
as I found it incredible that anyone could be outside working in these temperatures, but it happens alright, and this hard man is the proof! Next day I wandered around taking photos and a bit of handycam footage, before scooting into a pub on the legendary Uptown 17th Avenue. I arranged to meet the son of a work colleague who is living here with his wife, and my new friend and I had a great evening shooting the breeze. He even popped me in his car for a ride to a different pub for another bar hopping pint. Yeah, no worries, let’s push on then … after all, it’s only minus 27 degrees! It was an amazing experience, and one I will never forget. Thanks mate, it was great to meet you.

But I had to keep moving, and despite huge dramas with the airport shuttle I managed to catch an early morning flight out of Calgary Airport, because it was also delayed fortunately by the extreme cold. The first gate would not connect up, and then the plane’s water lines froze to the washrooms, then they had to de-ice the wings. This was all good for me because
Horseshoe Falls at NiagaraHorseshoe Falls at NiagaraHorseshoe Falls at Niagara

Right on the edge of the Falls, it's awesome!
I had never been in such a shambles, getting to the gate only five minutes before the scheduled departure time. My destination is Toronto, a booming city of nearly five million and home of the mighty CN Tower. However time is short, so I opted to take the airport express straight down to Niagara Falls. Unfortunately I received a last minute email from a travel friend inviting me out to catch up in Toronto, and a special hi to Hillary if you are reading. Next time I'll definitely spend some time exploring your wonderful city, and hope to see you again.

So on to Niagara Falls it was, and the bus dropped me at the door of ACBB Hostel Niagara, one of the highest rated hostels in North America. There I met Patrick, an intelligent and passionate man who had fled the corporate world for a different life. This dude has his act together, and also owns a hostel in London, Ontario. He gave me the good oil, and I hit the tourist traps before having my first gander at the mighty falls by night. Then it was up for a great breakfast and more chatting, before I headed off again to gaze on Niagara Falls, featuring the American Falls and the Horseshoe Falls nearby. They are both magnificent sights, where the wonder and majesty of nature is on display in all her glory. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to see all three of the world’s great falls now: Iguaçu Falls in 2003, Victoria Falls in 2005 and now Niagara Falls. I believe seeing at least one of the mighty falls is something to place high on any travel itinerary, there's nothing in nature that compares with the power and sheer volume of water plunging over the precipice here at Niagara Falls. Patrick assures me there's much more to see and do next time in Niagara Falls, including the whirlpool and some amazing fishing.

Anyways, here I am in Eastern Canada already and it seems the holiday is simply tearing by. Canadians are as friendly and helpful as any people you will meet anywhere, and this vast country is blessed with abundant natural beauty. The weather has taken a dramatic turn since my arrival in Vancouver, on the milder west coast of this vast country. Nevertheless, I knew what to expect after visiting Quebec province during winter in 2006, but realistically nothing can prepare a traveller for the fierce cold that's prevalent in the country throughout winter. So I guess that means it's time to rug up and consider the fact, basically all of you should be here now!

It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves." Edmund Hillary

As I continue my travels, until next time it’s signing off for now


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16th December 2009

Thanks very much for the mention in your blog and the kind comments. I'm glad that you enjoyed Niagara. Winter time is truly the most magnificent time to see Niagara Falls as the crowds are gone and the cold has an amazing effect of creating the most magical ice formations all around the falls, trees and buildings when the huge volumes of mist freeze to everything an awe-inspiring experience truly. This really becomes evident in January and February. The current Winter Festival of the Lights also shows off the amazing transformation of water to ice. Keep on traveling and keep on telling the world about your trips!

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