|I didn't have a real motivation to visit Calgary. Once I planned out my stop in Banff, I basically thought it would be nice to visit nearby Calgary. I didn't have any expectation and Calgary didn't have good surprises for me. It's true though I mostly used that stop to rest and do some catch-up in terms of writing and Couch surfing search.|
The city is almost totally new, with dozens of glassy skyscrapers
in a compact zone near the Bow river splitting the city. My
first surprise in arriving to my downtown hotel was how deserted
downtown was, and it was Thursday night before 8 PM! All shops,
drugstores, convenience stores, restaurants (even coffee shops!) were
closed. Only exception was a few bars.
Calgary is essentially a donut city, where downtown is reserved
for business and that's all. Even though there are a few
apartment towers downtown, there's no such thing as a neighbourhood
Like many cities on the West coast, Calgary is divided into
quadrants, which is confusing for tourists. Downtown is compact
and easily walkable, there's also a free-fare section inside downtown
to use the light-rail system. Besides a bit of shopping and
eating, and check out the closing hour because they close the city
early, there's not much to do for tourists. One of the signs of
the lack of tourist interest and attractions is the fact that there
is no city tour offered by tour companies. The companies only
offer departures from Calgary to go in the Rockies.
Calgary is a small town (even if it's the 4th largest city in
Canada, it's metro area is just above the million mark) that got
boosted on oil steroids in the last decades and hope to become an
important financial centre, but has not quite realized its
ambitions. It's a brand new city, where history is quickly
dismissed for something shinny and new. It's a city where
there is tons of money and like a newly rich kid, it likes to show
off. That is visible in its architecture but also in the cars
driven by its citizens.
But I was surprised by a few elements in Calgary. First, the
streets aren't filled with cowboy hats like I was expecting it to
be. Then I was surprised by how patriotic the city was.
There are so many flags waiving all around that I would have thought
I was back in the USA already, unless I noted the absence of blue on
the flag. That's quite surprising when you know Alberta is the
second province who would leave Canada. Quebec would do it for
political reasons, Alberta for economical ones. Maybe it's the
fact the Prime Minister is from Calgary.
An interesting fact I discovered about Calgary was its Plus 15
network of pathways throughout downtown. Montreal built its
underground city to keep people downtown in winter, Calgary built an
elevated pathway system to link about 60 buildings. These
pathway cross the street at an elevation of about 15 feet above
ground, thus the name of Plus 15. Sometimes these pathways are
part of the building (in malls for example), perched on the side of a
building, over a backstreet or literally across the streets making a
series of pedestrian bridges. This being downtown, most of the
sections of the system are only opened during weekdays, for a bit
longer than business hours.
The city has a good transit system but, like most things in
Alberta, it's expensive, despite the downtown free zone: $3 per
use... $9 for an all-day pass.