Edmonton, Revisited

Whyte Shadows“I am enjoying living in Edmonton more than I thought I would,” my childhood friend Kris stated as we shared beers in the lusterless dive bar The Empress Ale House. Dark and moody, it sits on a quiet corner of the popular Whyte Avenue, yet it doesn’t quite fit into the Whyte Ave vibe. Which is precisely why we liked it.

Having lived in both Alberta’s capital and it’s southern rival of Calgary, Kris offered insight into the differences in both. “Calgary is more in-your-face, stating: This-Is-What-We-Have-And-You-Will-Like-It! Edmonton, on the other hand, is a little tougher nut to crack. There’s something for everyone to like, but you just have to dig to find it.”

Comparisons aren’t always fair but are common between these two largest cities in Alberta, fueled by sports team rivalries and the like. But as tourist destinations, in this case, a comparison doesn’t make one better than the other, just different.

Pete grew up in Edmonton before following me south to Calgary. I frequented the more northern city often growing up, drawn by the retail and excited by the bright lights and buzz compared to my much more rural upbringing.

As always, revisiting familiar places with a new set of eyes is difficult – to not follow the draw to old haunts, but instead explore what’s new and see if you can be surprised. We ignored the number one attraction in the province, West Edmonton Mall, not because it deserve to be ignored (the water park is so fun!), but because the city has so much more to offer.

We left the indomitable Whyte Ave in search of the next big thing. Little corners of the city are in a state of revitalization, recommendations pointed us in the direction of what used to be a shadier part of the city (so Pete says). 124th Ave wasn’t exactly picturesque under the brown of winter, but we found a sublime treasure known as the Duchess Bake Shop. On the outside it was nondescript and not entirely appealing, but once inside, the elegance of this simple shop and the buzz of people who were thoroughly enjoying it made it a stand-out experience in the city. (And the divinity of the food didn’t hurt either.)

 

Duchess Bake Shop in Edmonton

 

Another discovery that absolutely captivated us was subtle, unanticipated, and incredibly romantic. While we snow-shoed around Louise McKinney park just up from the river valley, our guide pointed out the light standards on a trail adorned with little metal plaques on which poetry was inscribed. There are forty poems in six different languages, to represent the founding communities of the city.

 

Park Poetry

 

And we found ourselves drawn into the river valley – it always did and likely always will enchant us as the best part of Alberta’s capital city. Its 7,400 hectares of river banks (making it the largest urban park in North America) is most stunning with the lush green of summer, but not to be overlooked in winter too. And to explore it via segway was a lot of fun – who knew they came with snow tires?

 

Foot Bridge

Part of our path earlier in the day, on segway.

 

River Valley Boardwalk

 

Edmonton River Valley at Night

 

In two days, cracking a “tougher nut” is not easy, and likely not even possible. But some brilliant little corners were found in unexpected areas, making them all the sweeter and rewarding. We came away a little surprised at what we’d found, and it is now clear that Edmonton is a city deserving of more of our attention.

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Where we stayed

Metterra Hotel

Our suite at the boutique Metterra Hotel, in the middle of all the action on Whyte Ave, was divinely comfortable with a fireplace facing the bed and plenty of space. (Each night we debated going to chase northern-lights but the cozy bed won out.) The breakfast offerings were diverse and delicious. Would highly recommend this (and these other Edmonton hotels) to anyone.

What we did

We worked off some of the Duchess Bake Shop’s pastries by segwaying and snowshoeing along the river valley with River Valley Adventures. We had much more fun that we thought we ever would (segways are not near as nerdy as they appear) and we were pretty impressed to be able to do it in snow.

 

Many thanks to Travel Alberta and Edmonton Tourism for their assistance during our stay. As always, all opinions are our own.

16 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • B
    February 13 2014

    Fantastic pics! I always loved the night skyline of Edmonton far more than Calgary. Great post!!

    • February 18 2014

      Thanks Brian! I think the skylines are comparable, but the river valley in Edmonton is prettier. 🙂

  • February 13 2014

    I wish I would’ve had time to visit you two while you were up here. Glad you got a chance to go to Duchess though, it’s one of my favourite places in the city. Love the skyline photos as well – such nice views from Louise McKinney Park.

    • February 18 2014

      Thanks Alouise! Hope we catch you on our next run through (whenever that is)!

  • February 13 2014

    I have really been enjoying your B&W photo posts.

    • February 18 2014

      Thanks Angela. I love winter shots in B&W. 🙂

  • Gorgeous photos! I definitely can relate to this post in a way. I lived in London for a few years and every time I go back I always want to revisit my favorite spots. However, I always make myself seek out new places because… hello!! It’s London! You can never see it all.

    Happy travels 🙂
    Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren recently posted..Finding Danish Comfort & Style at The Hamlet Inn

    • February 18 2014

      Thanks Lauren! Oh boy, London is one of those cities where you could NEVER see it all, for sure. Good for you in pushing yourself!

  • Laura
    February 15 2014

    I’ve been wanting to visit Alberta lately and Edmonton is on my list. I love the way the frozen river looks!

    • February 18 2014

      The frozen river is really nice, but in the summer the valley is stunning!

  • February 15 2014

    Wow! Things and places have different perspectives when they’re in black and white.m

  • Renuka
    February 15 2014

    Your pictures have a lot of character in them! You are right, it’s difficult to see the old place with a new set of eyes.

  • February 16 2014

    As much as I should hate that city because it’s apparently Brendan’s mortal enemy, I really really like the pictures. Ah rivalry.

    • February 18 2014

      Oh Brendan! Don’t listen to him. 🙂

  • February 27 2014

    I haven’t had a chance to visit Edmonton yet. Your photos are beautiful, but as I am from California, I think I’d prefer a summer visit.

  • Beautiful cityscapes. Love the bridge shot.

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