Cow town: idyllic days in Calgary

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Calgary is famous for its beef.  We had such a good steak sandwich here.  In Australia they use shitty offcuts for a steak sandwich that are grizzly and tough, hoping that smothering it in onions and BBQ sauce will distract from the gristle and toughness of the meat.  In the Calgary steak sandwich the meat was the centre of attention, with just one piece of garlic bread underneath it.  God it was good.  Tears well up in my eyes just thinking about it.

Not only was the steak great in Calgary, but the equal best breakfast I have eaten was made for me here by Kate, Sarah’s old Uni friend from her year on exchange here.  Kate cooked Saskatoon berry pancakes with crispy bacon and maple syrup.  My god it was good.  Saskatoon berries are much like blueberries but a little less sweet.  My equal favourite Canadian breakfast so far was in Saskatoon at the Park Cafe.  It was called the Bacon Breakfast and consisted of three different types of bacon, thick-cut, maple cured bacon, and just ordinary extremely good bacon, along with roasted cubes of potato, eggs over-easy and multi-grain toast, followed by Saskatoon berry pie.  God it was good.  North America has really nailed breakfast.

Calgary was an interesting place to visit.  As Sarah had done a year-long uni exchange there we were often chasing her memories of the place.  We took a look at the Uni of Calgary, had a muffin where she used to go outside and eat in the winter, and found her old Uni accommodation.  She couldn’t quite believe that the place had continued running without her being there.  We then took the train down to what used to be the funky part of town, but the rose-coloured memory of Sarah’s first time away from home seemed to embellish just how alternative this area was.  We walked through downtown (which for some reason rang no bells whatsoever) and took a wander through the museum which had a great Native Indian section, including a great headdress, tools and a functioning tipi.

Calgary is built on the oil and gas industry.  It’s an hour or so’s drive from The Rockies and is itself contained within pretty rolling hills.  Drive out of the city and you’re soon within wheat fields as far as the eye can see.  It was enough of a taster for what driving across the country would have been like (we flew from here to Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Toronto).

There are some great day trips outside Calgary.  One of them is Drumheller where they have a dinosaur museum.  This isn’t just your average dinosaur museum where they build models based on what other have excavated.  The Drumheller badlands are a major site of excavation.  It sounds like the early paleontologistscould barely wander around out there without falling over a set of bones.  The museum there has amazing examples of local fossils, including Tyrannosauraus Rex and lesser known but no less impressive completely intact fossils.  It rekindled my old childhood passion for dinosaurs (does any kid not have this?) and was a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend the afternoon.

The other notable and very interesting day trip out of Calgary is to head-smashed-in buffalo jump, known by the Native Indians as “deep kettle of blood”.  Before Europeans got involved there were vast herds of American Buffalo (otherwise known as Bison) on the North American plains.  These animals were vital to the survival of the Native Indians.  They not only ate them (including making a winter food source from dried meat mashed with berries called pemmican), they used the bones for tools and the hide for clothing.  Before the introduction of horses they hunted the buffalo on foot by surprising them at water sources or driving them into deep snow where they floundered and were easier to catch.  In a few places they caught the buffalo by driving them over small cliffs.

The technique was to get a couple of guys dressed in wolf skin to start encouraging a buffalo herd towards the cliff.  At the same time another guy dressed in a young buffalo’s skin would be in front of the herd pretending to be a lost calf.  With the wolves behind and the lost calf in front the natural instinct of the herd is to rush ahead to protect the calf.  When the herd approached the cliff pre-prepared cairns with tree branches swaying in them would spook the herd with the final touch being people leaping up from behind these cairns to try and get the herd to stampede over the cliff.  Evidently this was a very successful strategy over the years as there is archaeological evidence of buffalo bones at this jump site going back 6000 years.

Our other wildlife sighting happened in downtown Calgary as we were walking from the museum to the eat street.  As we wandered down the road our eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to a completely starkers man (except for shoes) lying in a shop-front with a can of beer next to his head.  I would like to say that our natural reaction after first-aid training was to rush to his side and commence DRSABCD, but instead we mentally rubbed our eyes to confirm that we were seeing right.  By that time a few other people had come to his aid and we never found out the story behind it.

On our final night we went with our friends to the Wild Rose brewery for some hand-crafted ales made on the premises and some dinner, followed by ice-cream at My Favourite Ice Cream Shoppe.  God it was good.

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