The chirping of birds is enough to wake you up in the morning at the Chateau Lacombe Hotel. The huge glass windows open a portal to the beautiful city of Edmonton. I walk by the greetings of the Hotel staff towards the vintage AMF Skyrider bicycle that I rented. This Retro beauty from the early 1960s boasts a classic red and white design and features a Cadet speedometer attached to the handlebars.
The sun was yet to rise as the darkness clung to the yellow leaves on the roads. It was the month of October that carried the cold breeze and dried leaves following the vehicles on the road. A subtle warmth slowly rose with the sun, attracting the stray cats to bask on the roadsides and rooftops as if they had colonized the city (with a population of 63000). They all gave me that “we are watching” look as I passed by them. This article will take you on a splendid journey to Alberta’s capital city, Edmonton, alongside me and my red-rented bike.
“The Miraculous Morning at Edmonton”
- My first stop was the Muttart Conservatory — the best way to start the morning. When I reached there, I stood mesmerized by the half-grown orange sun reflecting on the pyramid glass of the conservatory. After bathing in this heavenly sunlight flowing like a river, I went inside. Soon my senses of sight and smell were intoxicated by the 700 different flowers and plants from all over the world in the heart of Edmonton.
My lungs were overwhelmed with this much amount of oxygen as I walked passed them. The colors from the leaves and petals somehow escaped with the moist air and rose high to the ceiling of the glass pyramid.
- I reached the Litfest — with a black coffee and a newspaper in one hand and the bike in the other. A newspaper, handed to me by a little boy whom I couldn’t say no to, just outside the conservatory. After reaching here the first thing I noticed was the same newspaper in the hands of many.
Clearly, I was not his first victim that morning. Some of the people were even reading that same newspaper, well no surprise there as most of them were avid readers, best-sellers, and award-winning writers. This place in Edmonton was a delight as I poked my nose between great conservations about characters, books, novels, and the art of storytelling. After this delightful breakfast on words and books, I sailed for the next port on my rented bike.
- The Mosquers Film Festival — was the perfect place after the last experience as this fest captivated me with its short films curated by visionary Muslim Filmmakers worldwide. At the Mosquers Edmonton, this fest aims to educate, entertain, and build bridges by showcasing talent and the diverse Muslim experience. What began as a local competition years ago has evolved into a phenomenon, drawing in filmmakers and audiences from around the world and I was one of them. Dragging my half-subconscious out (the other half still stuck inside) to my red beauty, I left for my next adventure.
“An Aesthetic Afternoon of Alberta”
- On my way to the Edmonton Corn Maze, I encountered herds of people visiting the Prairie Gardens. Friends holding hands and children cracking their voices — all excited to see the 35 acres of pumpkin farms and market. However, the child inside me was excited to get lost in the maze of cornfields. The correct pathways can be walked in under 30 minutes, but most of us took about one hour to travel through more than 5 km of twists and turns and 85 decision points.
Don’t forget the sweet smell of corn that diluted our sense of direction. Lost in the middle of an unknown city surrounded by confused faces, brings up a thrill through your spine. This corn-tastic place also reminded me of my ignored stomach, it was time to eat!
- Flavors of Heaven at Edmonton: My grandfather once told me to not judge a place by its history, people, or even culture but by the food. He was right, the first bite of Perogies and I tasted heaven. The one I had was filled with bacon, onion, sauerkraut, mushroom and cheese. As the flavors melted my eyes gave up and the lids were closed. By now I was seeing colors like the rat from Ratatouille. Trying out the famous Green Onion Cake right after was like a fat kid jumping on one end of a see-saw, while I was on the other end. I was launched into the sky of new flavors.
As I was still soaring in the clouds, Endamon was ready to bring me down like lightning by the local’s favorite Donairs. A pile of seasoned ground beef, wrapped in pita, drizzled with milky sweet sauce, and sprinkled with tomato and onions. “This is going to be hard to forget” I mumbled to myself. Well, it is and the stain on my grey shirt forbids me to.
- With the same stained shirt, I reached the doorsteps of the Art Gallery of Alberta. The sun was up and bright by this time and I needed the shadow of a roof anyway. While the rented beauty of my bike was still soaking some of the heat, I evaded into another dimension of art in Edmonton. Quickly I found myself surrounded by more than 1500 photographs involving some of my favorite artists like Karl Blossfeldt, Walker Evans, and Yousuf Karsh.
Witnessing the strokes of Tom Thomson in – Frasers Lodge 1915, and Autumn Filiage, 1916 felt like an honor. However, this one particle piece by him made me forget how to walk. I stood still as people passed around like ants. I was bothered by the depth of this piece that pocked the loneliness within me. “How lonely must this man be?” is what came out of me after seeing — Fisherman – winter 1916-1917. “One foot at a time” and I walked out of my loneliness.
“An Evening of Ecstasy at Edmonton”
- By the time I learned how to walk again, the sun was about to disappear. I forgot that the time outside was still in the marathon as I wandered into the timeless dimension of art. I then quickly took the red ride of mine and flinched towards my next milestone in this magic world. As if I was chasing the sun reflecting upon the North Saskatchewan River laid alongside like a lazy snake in Edmonton.
- I passed by the hoorays and cheers of thousands of people for the Edmonton Oilers at the NHL. Then went by the 4th Street Promenade, as the road changed colors by the neon signs. However, this race of mine took a break as a red-sided garter snake crossed my way. Common in this region these snakes are harmless and have the respect of localities here. I waited patiently until he crossed my path and disappeared as he might be chasing stars too. Yes, all this hustle for I was chasing stars!
- As I reached the Elk Island National Park, I had finally escaped from the temptations of the Edmonton city. I was standing in the heart of the Beaver Hills dark sky preserves magnificent beauty. Tents were laid and fire was born into the darkness as the stars twirled above our head. All the glowing lights of the city were far forgotten as we saw a live stage performance starring “The Stars.” The sound of the bison’s woke me up from this starry dream and I found my way back to my own body.
Here she was, tilted to the same night lamp. Who knows how many people have admired her before me and how many times she visited everywhere I’ve been. I admired her some more but it was time for return. Maybe someone like me will see her tomorrow, to dive into this never-ending culture of Art, festivals, and young spirit and fall in love with her — the Red-Rented bicycle. With or without this bike I firmly believe one must visit this life-changing experience, a city of youth and a fairyland for artists, the capital of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. A place where one can bask in the sunshine than most other Canadian cities.
Where people from around the world gather on the streets for over 50 festivals annually. North America’s largest stretch of urban parkland and home to Canada’s largest planetarium. A place you would never forget — Edmonton.