With a population of over a million, Calgary is one of Canada's most energetic, fastest-growing cities. At its heart are the Bow River and its little sister, the Elbow River. Downtown is on the south side of the Bow west of the confluence, and the Calgary Tower is at the centre of the city. The beautiful Rocky Mountains, 100 km away, show up in the view anytime you look west.
You can begin your Calgary exile quite pleasantly upon arrival at YYC – Calgary International Airport . Chances are pretty good that a friendly "White Hatter" in a red vest and white Stetson will welcome you. The airport's website has everything you need to know about ground transportation and the many services available on site. If you're getting in late in the day, you can eat at the food court or one of the restaurants (there's a Delta Hotel attached if you prefer something less casual. It's also a good bet for first and last night's accommodation if your time is tight. At the airport you can pick up a bottle of wine, some Bernard Callebaut chocolates (warning: seriously addictive!) and have a massage or www.ora-oxygen.com to start the process.
Other beds to exhale www.kensingtonriversideinn.com on the Bow River, within easy walking distance of downtown and the C-train, Calgary's answer to light rail transit. www.calgarytransit.com Not a good fit for the budget? That same C-train serves Motel Village (search "motel village Calgary" to see a variety of motel websites), where price is a reasonable indication of quality. (Save money by using the train – no car required). The Holiday Inn Express in Motel Village has worked well for me. (There's also one downtown, and another in the south end of the city, rather far from downtown but within walking distance of the C-train).
The downtown business hotels are pretty much cut from the same fine cloth – modern, clean, fairly expensive, comfortable with frills available – but the Fairmont Palliser Hotel - has a uniquely grand ambience. Hey, if it's good enough for Queen Elizabeth, it should work for the rest of us. Check out the Death by Chocolate buffet (see "Restaurants" on the hotel's website). The lounge menu includes the peatiest, smokiest Scotch this side of the Highlands.
To get your bearings, a Brewster City Tour will show you the city sights. Zoom to the top of the Calgary Tower for a fine meal in the revolving Panorama Restaurant. (Or skip the food and just go for the view). The Vertigo Mystery Theatre is on the ground floor, and the Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts just a block away. Explore Calgary's amazing small theatre scene – do your own net search or try this listing: www.discovercalgary.com/BusinessIndex/TheatreCompanies
Modern Calgary started with good guys and bad guys trading at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers. The bad guys – whiskey traders – were run off by the North West Mounted Police (now known as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada's famous Mounties) . At Fort Calgary, you can stand on the original fort site and learn about early Calgary in the museum and interpretive centre. Head east across the Elbow River and you'll be in the community of Inglewood , offering fine dining including a choice of two historic houses, The Deane House and Rouge Restaurant in the historic A.E. Cross House. Antiquing and browsing are pretty good in Inglewood, and a Spolumbo's sausage on a bun makes a great lunch for the traveller.
Express yourself with words or images: the Alexandra Writers' Centre offers courses. The Inglewood Art Supply Shop has all your colours. Look up Loose Moose Theatre Company for some fun improv.
Two islands in the Bow River will pamper the explorer in you. By C-train, on foot or by car you can reach the Calgary Zoo. Go on a Sunday for brunch – it's one of the best in town food-wise, and you can't beat the setting. The zoo is a world leader in conservation and education, and also offers a number of evening and weekend programs. In season, the gardens are a treat you may not have been expecting.
Closer to the heart of downtown you'll find the Eau Claire Market the swanky Eau Claire YMCA www.ymcacalgary.ca – lots of room to exhale here - swimming pool, running maps, indoor track and work-out areas, many classes -and the bridge to Prince's Island. In summer, Prince's Island hosts the Calgary Folk Festival, a Taste of Calgary, Shakespeare in the Park, and more. The River Café, also on the island, is excellent for lunch or dinner, and because Prince's Island is car-free, there's a special peacefulness about the place.
Walking around downtown is pleasant by day, when you can fully appreciate the warm sandstone of the historic buildings on Stephen Avenue. Stop in at McNally Robinson Books for a coffee, great books, and a close-up inspection of one of these restored gems. Wind up at Devonian Gardens. an indoor oasis of greenery and calm, on top of the downtown shopping centre.
Exhale year-round with your ice skates on at the Olympic Oval speed-skating track http://oval.sunergon.com/ at the University of Calgary campus (a C-train stop away from Motel Village), or outdoors in winter on the Bowness lagoon (take the bus if you don't have a car). There's an outdoor rink right downtown at Olympic Plaza (by City Hall) too.
And how best to exorcise any nagging demons? A short, terrifying, exhilarating ride in a bobsleigh down the track at Canada Olympic Park should take care of you. (Trust me, if I can do it, anyone can. I started screaming at the top and exhaled loudly and vociferously until the bottom. It was extremely… therapeutic. Remember: do something every day that scares you).
Last, but most certainly not least, if you visit in the first part of July, you will be swept up in the excitement of the Calgary Stampede, The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth. A few good YAHOOs! and you'll be fine.
Jill Browne lives in Calgary, loves to write and travel, and was initiated into the Order of People Who Have Survived the Olympic Bobsleigh Run in 1999. The adrenalin has never left her system.