Car races, chuck wagons and witches, oh my.(Yeah, I had to make the reference.) These were just some of the experiences I had on my first fam tour of Edmonton, Alberta, a place I have grown to really appreciate after my fast-paced weekend trip.
It all began with the amazing hospitality and care I received from the Edmonton Tourism team. My guides, Christie and Michelle, were incredible hosts, very vibrant, friendly, helpful and accommodating. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I was welcomed openly. And for someone who has never participated in one of these press trips, it made it very comfortable and less intimidating. The tour was made even better by the people in my group. Not only were they extremely nice, but their outgoing nature made it easier for mine to come to the surface. From the beginning, we formed an admirable camaraderie with one another, which just made the experience all the more pleasant.
Union Bank Inn, and checked out my room. It was beautiful, quaint and comfortable. It was equipped with a fireplace, a queen size bed, and many other standard amenities. The colors and decor were warming, relaxing, and I definitely felt like taking a quick nap before the evenings festivities began. With the short amount of time I had, I decided to unpack a little and warm up, since it was about 50 degrees and raining when I flew in. On the desk, Edmonton Tourism had left me a backpack full of small gifts, information and even a stuffed animal. I didn't have much time to do anything, even grab something to eat, even though I was starving and my stomach felt like it was going to cave in on itself. At that very moment, to my surprise, a knock came at the door, and a fabulous wine and cheese platter floated in front of me. Perfect! What a way to start the night--and somewhat satisfy my gnarling stomach before dinner.
Packrat Louie Kitchen & Bar, where a table awaited us with a pre-set menu. I ordered the goat cheese salad, with roasted pumpkin seeds, fresh strawberries and spinach; followed by grilled chicken atop petite roasted potatoes and steamed vegetables; and finished the whole thing off with a hefty helping of tiramisu. Our host for the evening, Karen, the director of travel trade with Travel Alberta, ordered us an array of wine options as well--which, of course, I was happy to accept.
One thing I will point out about these press trips, you will never go hungry. I was consistently fed, and each meal was twice as big as the portions I eat at home. Also, libations are always available and usually on the house, but since it's technically a work trip, I knew to keep the drink count to a minimum.
I finished off the morning with a lovely, relaxing canoe ride down the North Saskatchewan River. Thankfully, the water was not too high or fast, so we were able to handle the current pretty easily. Although, my canoe had trouble keeping a straight course, mostly because there were three of us and we could not manage to get a steady paddling rhythm--much to my chagrin as a Colorado girl.
After a quick stop off at the hotel to freshen up, we walked over to the Art Gallery of Alberta to Zinc Restaurant. Since it is in the art district, Zinc changes its dishes seasonally based on featured exhibits, and we certainly got an artistic treat. All the dishes were relatively small, manageable portions. We started with a cheese and olive plate, simple and tasty. Then we had a deconstructed lobster salad, with the lobster meat placed on a small spoon next to the greens. The main course was a beef tenderloin with mashed potatoes and vegetables. Our dessert was olive oil cake, which was surprisingly delicious, especially paired with a little vanilla ice cream. The whole day was topped off by a wonderful performance of the Broadway hit musical Wicked, the untold story about the wicked witch of Oz. I had seen the play a couple years ago, but it was just as good as I remember.
Taste of Edmonton, our next stop on the agenda. There were choices for every palate, and the menu even included options that were vegetarian-friendly and gluten free, which was great for one of the girls in my group. Our first stop was the beer garden, where I sampled some of Canada's craft beers. The Aprikat from Alley Kat Brewery was particularly good. Then we walked around to the various vendors and selected our fare for the evening before hopping back onto our shuttle and making our way to the final stop: Northlands for the Chuckwagon Derby. The Capital EX Chuckwagon Derby features 36 drivers and their teams, all competing in 12 heats for a generous cash prize. I'm not sure I'll do a great job describing this, but basically, three teams, consisting of a driver controlling four horses pulling a wagon and two men riding two separate horses, line up at the start line. When the whistle blows, one man throws a small stove into the wagon, then the wagon has to do a figure eight around two barrels before doing a full lap around the arena. The other two riders follow, and must finish within 25 feet of their wagon when it crosses the finish line. Whichever team completes it the fastest with the fewest mistakes, wins. Simple, right?
The trip ended with a few final drinks with my host Christie and new friends, Kristine, Mo and Doug, then getting a couple precious hours of sleep before catching a horribly early 6 am flight. But it was worth it.
And I must say, for my first press trip, it was a truly incredible experience, and one I hope to have again soon.