CNN. Coca-Cola. The College Football Hall of Fame. Intellectually, those don’t really have anything in common. But in downtown Atlanta, within about eight city blocks, you can tour each of these institutions. With my free time in Atlanta in short supply, I wasn’t sure I’d get to all three, so I started with the one I most wanted to see first.
This is CNN.
As someone whose hair started going grey a decade or two earlier that normal, I was mostly hoping this tour would give me the chance to bump into Anderson Cooper for some hair care tips. Alas, he and I did not have the opportunity to regale each other with stories of our distinguished, yet boyishly good looks. I did get to meet Headline News host Mike Galanos and chat with him from the sidelines while his co-host Robin Meade was live on air. It was really interesting to see the polish and performance of the hosts as they were broadcasting live. I’m not sure my demo tape would allow me to make the cut, even though I think I’d be a welcome addition to CNN’s weather reporting.
Southern hospitality is a real thing. When I was in Atlanta, you could feel it in a few distinct ways. First, I was consistently referred to as “hon” or “love” in a way that reminded me of Atlantic Canadian grandmothers. Secondly, everyone I talked to was genuinely interested in having a conversation, and when they learned I was visiting, they were generous with tips on how to best enjoy Atlanta. And lastly, and luckily for someone who is a food and beer lover, the hospitality came shining through every time I sat down for a meal or for a beverage.
My introduction to southern hospitality and food started shortly after arriving in Atlanta from Saskatoon. I was starving, and through a bit of good fortune, I found Max Lager’s, a great gastropub, around the corner from my hotel. My server’s recommendation of the fried chicken was a winner – set on top of mashed potatoes, drizzled with honey and served with some tangy greens, it was a great first taste of Atlanta and was enough food for two. Or one hungry travel-weary Canadian.
For a long time, a bit subconsciously, I’ve focused my travels on places far away. I don’t think I ascribed a particular value to distance, but when planning trips I have had a tendency to think foreign, and with that, usually came a long flight or two. There’s still a lot of the world I want to see, but over the last year plus living in western Canada, I’m realizing that a lot of the world I haven’t yet laid eyes on and want to experience is actually within the borders of my own country.
My wife and I planned and just returned from a relatively short journey to the Okanagan Valley, in British Columbia, two provinces over. We’ve been married four years, and to celebrate our anniversary, we take an annual honeymoon. This one, honeymoon #5, smacked me in the face and reminded me how enormous, varied and downright beautiful and fun Canada is. Lush valleys, mountains, lakes and rivers were the backdrop. Wine tastings, outstanding food, craft beer (for me at least), two animal parks and a couple of days of road trips were the activities. Throughout it all, this trip satisfied the need within me to explore while also comforting me. During an internationally turbulent week politically (aren’t they all these days), it was good to be away, yet still be at home.
I’ll write a lot more about our Okanagan experiences but know I loved every minute of it. The sights, tastes and experiences were new, and in an inexplicable way, familiar too.
Wine tasting at Summerhill
Vineyards outside of Kelowna
Craft beer at Boundary Brewing Co.
Feeding goats at Kangaroo Creek farm
Quail’s Gate winery
Seafood lunch at a winery
Gray Monk winery
A summer afternoon at a ballpark, beer in hand, nerding out watching a ballgame is pretty much perfection for me. I was heading to Atlanta for a conference, and by adding a couple of days onto the front of the trip, I got myself to a game in the brand new stadium in Atlanta. SunTrust park had only seen 11 previous games to start the season so many fans were seeing their first game here. It created a great pre-game and in-stadium buzz. Even a couple of hours before first pitch, there were lots of folks hanging out around the stadium.
Although there was plenty to do, see, eat and drink outside the park, shortly after the gates opened, I took up a spot in the centre field seats to watch the end of batting practice on what was a perfect afternoon for baseball.
For me, there was one absolutely can’t miss when I was in Winnipeg back in April – the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. And as I write this a few months later, I know I won’t do it justice. Very simply, in all my travels, this museum left a mark on me that few others have. Outside of visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, I’m not sure I’ve been more moved after any museum experience.
From the very first exhibit, a timeline of one hundred human rights moments lets you know this museum won’t be pulling any punches. Many of the events in the timeline are historical atrocities.
My first visit to Winnipeg was a short one. A work conference kept me busy and I wasn’t able to tack on any extra vacation time to explore the city in more depth. Luckily, on my travels back and forth near the conference site and hotel I was able to come across some interesting public art. There are a number of installations around the Millennium Library in the middle of the city, most notable is “emptyful” by Bill Pechet. This form lights up and sprays water and fog, but I caught it during a period of inactivity. It’s meant to symbolize the openness of the prairies and how weather can flow through/from it. At almost thirty feet tall, it is a striking piece.
After a little over a year living on the prairies, I’ve learned that some of western Canada is playing catch up to the rest of the country in the growth of craft beer. Certainly that’s true in Saskatchewan, and I came to learn it’s also true in Manitoba on my recent visit to its capital city of Winnipeg. Playing catch up doesn’t mean you can’t find a great craft beer, it just means you’ll sample you’re way through the available choices much quicker.
After a morning flight to Winnipeg a late lunch beckoned, and given the choice by my dining companion, I selected Peg Beer Co. so I could get a tasting flight to accompany my meal. The craft brewery in the Exchange District is my kind of place – industrial feel, a good selection of their beers on tap, and a fairly solid kitchen. On a hot afternoon, I stuck to fairly light beers in my tasting flight. From left to right: a wheat (that I got through most of before snapping this picture), a really solid ISA, a sour beer (my favourite from this visit) and a slightly spicy rye ale. All delicious and the good first impression would bring me back later in the trip for another meal.
The idea for a guys weekend in Montreal with my dad started with a desire to relive some old times in the city. Aside from family road trips to visit my mom and dad’s relatives in New Brunswick, my first real travel experiences were with dad visiting Montreal to take in Expos games in the early 1980s. Those trips were fun times and the memories of them still float around in my mind from time to time. The excited feelings I had when I first arrived in Montreal as a child on the train on those trips are pretty much the same feelings I have today when I visit a place for the first time.
So with nostalgia sparking the idea, and a couple of Blue Jays preseason games in Montreal this past March forming the cornerstone of a trip, I invited my dad on a guys weekend in a city we both love. I flew in from Saskatoon, him from Halifax, and we met in the Montreal airport ready to relive some good old times and to see what kind of trouble we could get into. Trouble is all relative of course, and 40-somthing me and 70-something dad were both up for some unhealthy but delicious eating. First order of business was a smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz’s.