Sunday, July 27, 2008

Edmonton, Alberta

As a native of Indianapolis, a laid-back Midwestern city, my first visit to Edmonton has made me feel at home. The sixth-largest city in Canada is similar in size to Indy (a little over 1 million), and the people are very friendly.

It takes some effort to get to Edmonton - it's almost four hours north of Calgary - but a visit, especially in the summertime, is worth it.

I visited in late July when the city was buzzing was several of its biggest events of the year - although I'm not sure anything tops Oilers hockey in the winter in the mindset of Edmontonians.

Edmonton's CapitalEx, a 10-day "state fair", was in mid-swing. I didn't see any pigs or other livestock common to the Indiana State Fair, but there was a lively midway with games and rides, several concert areas and exhibition halls filled with various vendors. One of the most unique attractions was a butterfly exhibit, where visitors could walk in a large area covered by netting and mingle with thousands of exotic butterflies.

Another area drawing a large crowd at CapitalEx was Sip!, a wine and food-tasting experience. This area offered fair goers the chance to sample wines, beers, spirits and food from some of the areas restaurants and breweries. I two very interesting beers brewed by Amber's Brewing Company. The first was Australian Mountain Pepper Berry Lager. It was quite tasty, and it had just a hint of a pepper flavor. I also sampled the Sap Vampire Maple Lager, which was quite different from any beer I had tasted before due to its maple taste.

CapitalEx takes place at Northlands, which also houses the Oilers' arena and a horse track.

Another event taking place in Edmonton during my visit in July was Taste of Edmonton. Forty restaurants set up booths in Sir Winston Churchill Square, located downtown just a block from my hotel - Sutton Place. Visitors could sample nearly 80 menu items from the different restaurants.

Two major sporting events were also occuring in Edmonton during my visit, an Indy car race at the City Centre Airport and a rodeo. The city also has an independent minor league baseball team and a Canadian Football League team.

I didn't have time, but the city also offers numerous parks, hiking and biking trails to take advantage of on the long summer days. With its northern location, the sun rises around 5:30 a.m. and doesn't set until around 10:30 p.m. Bring sunscreen. The northern location makes the sun feel more intense. I noticed my skin starting to feel hot after only a limited amount of time outside.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hickory Falls Wood-Fired Grill

I recently made a return visit to Hickory Falls Wood Fired Grill in Smyrna, Tennessee just outside of Nashville.

While I don't have strong memories good or bad from my visit about a year ago, this visit definitely left me disappointed. I started with a salad, which was very good. My entree, however, an 8 oz. sirloin had very little taste - other than a hint of smoky flavor from the grill. My companion gave the same report for the pork chops.

I was also disappointed by the service. It seemed rushed and insincere.

The best part of the meal was getting out of there in only 35 minutes.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


My wife and two young children recently joined me for a day in Baltimore. It was the first visit to the city for all of us, and I must say Baltimore seems like a city easily worth 2-3 days of sightseeing.

As we researched some options before going to Baltimore, the kids overwhelmingly voted for the B&O Railroad Museum. This proved to be a great choice.

We spent about two hours at the museum located about 10 minutes from the Inner Harbor. A huge roundhouse houses engines and coaches from many eras, including several that have been used in films. Numerous volunteers are available to answer questions, provide historical insights and give tours. There's also the opportunity to board several of the trains. We went on a Tuesday which precluded us getting to ride on a train - the rides are offered Wednesday through Sunday.

After the B&O Museum, we drove down to the Inner Harbor. This is an area with many options.

The National Aquarium houses more than 5,000 creatures. The Science Center features three floors of exhibits, including a planetarium and an IMAX theater.

Four ships from different eras can me toured: a Coast Guard cutter that survived Pearl Harbor, a submarine from World War II, the USS Constellation from the Civil War and the Lightship Chesapeake, a floating navigational lighthouse.

Fort McHenry, which inspired the writing of the Star-Spangled Banner, is also nearby.

Of course, a lot of the fun comes from just sitting and watching different boats come and go.

We rented a paddle boat and spent 30 minutes on the water.

We were also entertained by some street performers as we walked past numerous restaurants and bars.

The area is close to both Camden Yards and M&T Stadium, the homes to baseball's Baltimore Orioles and football's Baltimore Ravens. We took in a game at Camden Yards. It's a beautiful ballpark that seems to stick to baseball - not a lot of fancy gimmicks around the park or between innings. There is a street (Eutaw Street) located beyond the right field fence that features food vendors, restaurants and bars.