Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cooking up a storm ... loft style!

For the average person cooking is a necessity and sometime a chore. We are not all, unfortunately, blessed with the ability to throw ingredients into a pot and produce a masterpiece. Nor are we all necessarily capable of following a recipe and producing the required results. “Hmm...Is preheating the oven important?”

It’s fascinating therefore to combine a group of ten people, many of which fit into the ‘average-in-the-kitchen’ skill set and then proceed to teach them to cook! This is precisely what Gail Hall bravely attempts to do with her cooking classes.

Let’s get clear here ... this is not a basic ‘learn to boil an egg’ cooking class!

Gail Hall is the owner of Seasons Solutions, an Edmonton based company, and spends her time educating folk on local and regional produce, leading hands-on cooking classes and developing and hosting international culinary tours. Just to ensure Gail does not get bored in her downtime, she also has a weekly food column on CBC radio and regularly appears on breakfast TV.

Gail’s enthusiasm is contagious as she soon organises the group into chopping, peeling, coring, seasoning, whisking and just about every other kitchen activity possible. Yet the emphasis on this experience is fun!

Gail hosts her classes in her home, in a kitchen setting to die for. Class members sit around a large island, on tall stools and the atmosphere is engaging and relaxing. As an individual you can be as hands-on as you wish, but soon find yourself clamouring to be involved as the enthusiasm spreads. Or maybe it’s the wine, which Gail pours liberally!

It’s not just physical work either. Gail’s husband Jon often partakes in entertaining the class members. He is a local historian and enjoys regaling the group with snippets of Edmonton’s history. He’s also very knowledgeable about the wine, which he also liberally pours!

After the hard work is complete it’s time to reap the rewards and the whole group sits down to enjoy a 4 course meal over a glass or two of wine.

Together we managed to create a very respectable and enjoyable meal consisting of a market salad with honey dressing, a fresh maple sausage frittata with roasted vegetables and yummy mini ‘tatin’ apple tarts. Most importantly, as Gail is so proud of reminding us; the meal is created with local and regional ingredients, most of which are organic!

When you enter The Loft, it is as a group of colleagues or friends or as individuals or couples. When you leave the experience, you feel warm, tingly, and well-fed; with a smug feeling that perhaps your kitchen prowess was indeed hiding, under a very large bushel! 

Seasoned Solutions Loft Cooking School hosts regular classes with a maximum of 10 participants and is a great introduction to Alberta regional cuisine.

Contact Urban Insight Travel to book one of our culinary travel packages.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Crypt Lake hike, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta

Hurrying to make the 9am water taxi with 11 other people on a chilly August morning was almost enough to make anyone want to crawl back into their warm sleeping bag!

In fact, only the thought of the reward ahead was enough to keep away the craving for a second cup of coffee!

I had hiked Crypt Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park two years prior and remembered being awed and amazed, despite hiking it at breakneck speed (my fellow hiker was very adamant about hiking fast!).

This time around, I was accompanied by 11 other hiking enthusiasts, many of whom were seeing the National Park and this exceptional hike for the first time.

Crypt Lake Trail is considered one of Canada’s top rated hiking trails and has numerous exciting surprises for the outdoors fanatic.

Perhaps the most rewarding is the constant change of scenery. After a 15 minute water taxi across Upper Waterton Lake, you are greeted with a series of switchbacks, numerous beautiful waterfalls, expansive open valleys and a delightful array of wildflowers, berries and plant life.

The trail gains a respectable elevation (675m) and culminates in a narrow trail adjacent to a sheer drop, ending at a steep wall with an iron ladder. Climbing the ladder is an easy feet for two legs, but if you are carrying a dog (as did one of our group) it’s a lot more challenging!

Upon reaching the top of the ladder, there is a 20m tunnel that cuts through the mountain and leads out to a trail that runs across an exposed precipice. Whilst not really for the fainthearted, the ledge does have a cable to help in some of the narrowest parts.

Luckily once past this hair-raising part of the hike, the trail ends at Crypt Lake, which is well worth the obstacle course it took to get there.

Surrounded by 600m cliffs, the lake is glacial carved, has stunningly deep green water and is ice-cold!

Sitting precisely on the Canada-US border (the east shore is in the US!), the lake is the perfect spot to lunch, cool down the toes or even cast out a line and fish.

Hiking back down the 8.7km trail only highlights the beautiful scenery even further and it’s with aching feet and a full camera that you arrive back into the town of Waterton. My second experience of hiking this trail only surpassed the first and is still definitely one of my top 5 hikes to date!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

An experience down under ... in the Rats Nest Cave that is!

Rat’s Nest Cave lies under Grotto Mountain near Canmore, was designated a Provincial Historic Site in 1987 and has over 4kms of explored passage.

Squeezing through holes that barely look large enough to get your head through can be an interesting experience. Fortunately the adrenalin rush far outweighs the anxious ‘what if I get stuck permanently’ thoughts ... most of the time!

During my first caving experience with Canmore Cave Tours recently, I found myself humming the theme tune to Mission Impossible throughout most of the tour!

There is a lot to be said for dragging your body inch by inch through cave chambers and tunnels. The ‘First Challenge’ tunnel lives up to its name and lays a good foundation for the ‘Second Challenge’ tunnel which is much more daunting! How can you not feel a sense of achievement after that!

Our excellent guides kept us entertained throughout with the geology and geography of the caves, as well as showing us some cool stalactites and ‘alien’ like rock formations!

When we exited the cave our group was very dirty, a little tired and smiling from ear to ear!  Well worth a try!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Canoe Trip Devon to Edmonton

On a beautiful Sunday morning our group took a leisurely day paddle down the North Saskatchewan River from Devon to Edmonton with Edmonton Canoe. 5 hours in perfect +20C weather with fun people made this trip a success! Scenery is varied and interesting with hawks, sea birds, bank swallows, beavers, deer, as well as trees, and hoodoo like banks, etc.

We stopped at Big Island, about 2 hours downstream for a bit of a break and light lunch; dodged sand bars, bridges, little rapids and gained skill as steer! You pass many markers along the route as well. Rabbit Hill Ski Hill, Terwillegar Dog Park, Fort Edmonton Park, Hawerlak Park to name a few.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Spotlight on Grande Cache

Tucked away at the north end of the Canadian Rockies Mountains, 214kms northwest of Jasper, lies a little known destination that is bountiful with stunning, natural landscape, lots of hidden treasures and abundant small-town charm.

The town of Grande Cache located within the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, is the gateway to the stunning Willmore Wilderness Park and is actually built on the side of a mountain, overlooked by 20 other mountains!

Sometimes referred to as a “hidden gem” Grande Cache is a town that does everything but try to be a secret! In fact, local residents go all out and roll out the carpet to visitors from far and wide, indeed encouraging us to stay and “Get Lost in Grande Cache”!

Currently most visitors to Grande Cache and area are not accidental tourists by any means and most are in fact on a mission! A mission to either get to Alaska (via the scenic route); visit the untamed wilderness of the area firsthand or to participate in the Death Race! The Death Race (an aptly named killer 125km long mountain trail run!) almost doubles the town’s population overnight!

With a huge variety of first class outdoor activities available including white-water rafting, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, biking and more, it’s a guarantee that visitors to Grande Cache will return for more!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

10 Hands-on culinary and agricultural experiences in Alberta

See just a few of our suggestions below (in no particular order):

Alberta is not necessarily known as the culinary capital of Canada, but during the last few years, the province is focussing more on its natural landscape and habitat and recognising our potential in the culinary world. Take a look at some of our hands-on culinary experiences that are available and include some of them in your clients itineraries.

1. Visit a winery!
Whilst Alberta is not usually known for its vineyards, there are two wineries that are starting to make a name for themselves: Field Stone Fruit Winery in Strathmore was Alberta’s first cottage winery and en Sante Winery in Brosseau is Alberta's first and only organic-fruit cottage winery.

2. Visit a Honey Producer!
Did you know that Canada is the world’s sixth largest producer of honey and that Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta produce 80% of Canada’s honey crop? And it’s not just honey. Visit one of our honey operations such as Lola Canola in Bon Accord to find out about beeswax, bee pollen and even honey wine.

3. Drop by one of our microbreweries!
Alberta is now home to a good number of microbreweries and brewpubs including Alley Kat in Edmonton, Wild Rose in Calgary and Grizzly Paw Brewing Company in Canmore to name just a few!

4. Experience chocolate tasting!
The perfect experience for chocophiles! At Kerstin’s Chocolates in Edmonton you will learn about the history of chocolate, and how it is made from beans into bars. Then enjoy tasting a series of dark and milk chocolates from around the world!

5. Enjoy a coffee tasting!
Spend 2-3 hours at Transcend Coffee in Edmonton and you will be introduced to the world of speciality coffee, find out about different brewing methods and taste coffees from around the world!

6. Get lost in a corn maze!
Don’t underestimate the fun involved in finding your way through a 15 acre, 9 foot high corn maze! Alberta has over ten corn mazes and even a sunflower maze in Bowden!

7. Attend a culinary festival!
Alberta benefits from hosting numerous food and drink related festivals throughout the year. A few honourable mentions include: Sorrentino’s Garlic Festival (which happens at 7 venues and is Canada’s largest), International Beer Fest (Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer), A Taste of Edmonton, Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival and the Calgary Greek Festival.

8. Pick some fruit!
It goes without saying that Alberta has endless opportunities to pick fruit. Choose from Saskatoon berries, rhubarb, raspberries, apples, chokeberries, currants, sour cherries, gooseberries and strawberries to name just a few!

9. Visit a ranch!
Ranching families first settled in Alberta in the 1880s, attracted by its moderate climate, wide variety of wildlife species and broad ecological diversity. The families soon transformed much of the rolling grasslands into cattle country. During your visit why not stay at a guest or working ranch and experience the cowboy life for yourself!

10. Go to a Farmers’ Market!
Without doubt, farmers’ markets are becoming big business in Alberta! We are lucky enough to have over 100 approved farmers’ markets and close the 3000 vendors across the province! To find a market near you take a look at the Alberta Farmers’ Market profile.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Need a reason to visit Alberta? Look no further ...

See below for just a few reasons why you should vacation in Alberta (in no particular order):

1. Banff National Park! Canada's first National Park. The park now consists of 6,641 square kilometres of unparalleled mountain scenery nestled in the heart of the magnificent Canadian Rockies!

2. Jasper National Park! The largest national park in the Canadian Rockies with 10,878 square kilometres of mountain wilderness. Jasper is the wildest of the mountain parks, and contains a superb backcountry trail system as well as the world famous Columbia Icefields.

3. Columbia Icefields! Located on the boundary of Banff and Jasper National Parks, the Columbia Icefields is one of the largest accumulations of ice and snow south of the Arctic Circle. Covering an area of nearly 325 square kilometres, the icefields sometimes reaches a depth of 300-360 metres.

4. West Edmonton Mall - This mall is currently ranked as the fifth largest in the world, covers over 6 million square feet and features well over 800 stores. With an indoor waterpark, amusement park and ice rink, the West Edmonton Mall is a must see on everyone's visit to Alberta!

5. The Calgary Stampede! Billed as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, the Calgary Stampede is one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Canada. Visitors will enjoy a festival, exhibition, and rodeo, with countless different exhibits taking place all over the city.

6. Dinosaurs! A haven for dinosaur enthusiasts, palaeontologists and kids of all ages. Alberta is home to one of the largest dinosaur finds in the world! Be sure to add the Dinosaur Provincial Park and Drumheller to your itineraries!

7. Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump! An UNESCO World Heritage Site this place is a must see for anyone wanting to explore Native American culture. The museum is built into the side of a cliff that was used by the plains Indians for thousands of years as a Buffalo trap. Large herds of Buffalo were lured and stampeded to jump over the side of the cliff every season.

8. Waterton Lakes National Park! Perhaps one of the lesser known National Parks be assured that you will NOT be disappointed with a visit to this one. The scenery is a stunning contrast of rugged, windswept mountains rising out of gentle prairie grassland. Visit Waterton Lakes National Park for more info.

9. Our two big cities! Edmonton the capital of Alberta is fast becoming known as a vibrant, fun and attractive urban centre. Calgary is an energetic, corporate city located just three hours by car from Edmonton and less than an hour away from the Rocky Mountains. See for yourself the delights of Edmonton's blue and gold and Calgary's red mile and see which side of our friendly rivalry you fall on!

10. The people! Albertans, like all Canadians are really very nice! Any visitor travelling in Alberta loves meeting the friendly, enthusiastic and positive locals. What a great bonus to vacationing in Alberta!

Friday, April 30, 2010

10 quirky places to visit in Alberta!

The following are 10 of our favourite quirky places to visit in Alberta (in no particular order):

1. The Town of Vulcan
The town of Vulcan is located one hour south of Calgary and an hour north of Lethbridge on Highway 23. A surveyor named the town Vulcan in 1920, after the roman God of Fire and Forge because it was to rest on the highest elevation point. The town has since taken advantage of its unforgettable name by creating a fun and unique Star Trek related identity.

2. The Torrington Gopher Hole Museum
Located 160km north east of Calgary, the museum contains about 40 dioramas set in neatly constructed wooden boxes, each to represent a gopher hole. Inside the holes are taxidermied gophers, dressed in costumes and carrying on anthropomorphic (human) activities. You can see such scenes as a gopher yard sale, a gopher hairdresser, a gopher Mountie etc. An entertaining spot to visit!

3. The Lacombe Corn Maze
Located 3km west of Lacombe, the 15-acre maze is made up of 9 feet high corn divided into 3 phases.

4. Em-Te Town
Em-Te Town is a privately built authentic western frontier ghost town complete with Hogs Breath Saloon, jail house, harness shop, log buildings, livery stable, bank, church, emporium, and restaurant. Visitors can enjoy numerous activities at the facility, and visit for the day or stay overnight in the motel, in a cabin or in a tepee.

5. Zombie Walk
Takes place in Edmonton, on the second Friday in October, hundreds of otherwise geeky, normal people don zombie clothing and makeup and drag themselves through the city streets. The site is amazing, creepy yet fun and the group collect for the food bank too!

6. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
Worth a mention in no small part because of the name! Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is known around the world as a remarkable testimony of prehistoric life. This UNESCO World Heritage Site bears witness to a custom practiced by native people of the North American plains for nearly 6000 years. Thanks to their excellent understanding of topography and of bison behaviour, they killed bison by chasing them over a precipice and subsequently carving up the carcasses in the camp below.

7. Lloydminster
Lloydminster is located in the Central Parkland Region on both the Saskatchewan and Alberta side. It is Canada's only "border city", with the provincial border running through the centre of the city, creating a
truly unique municipality! As a resident of Lloydminster, you either live in Alberta or Saskatchewan, depending on your address!

8. Saumer Time Alpaca Ranch
Visit this farm in Onoway, for a warm and fuzzy Alpaca hands on experience! The farm tour includes unique, relaxing and informative experience as you learn about these charming camelids of South America. You can even purchase an Alpaca of your very own!

9. Evansburg – Home of the Grouch
Originally a coal mining town, Evansburg has a population of 603 people, 29 dogs, 41 cats, and one Town Grouch. The first "Grouch" contest was held by the Royal Canadian Legion in 1979, conjunction with the Village's 25th anniversary. It's now an annual event, a part of the Pembina Valley Family Daze festival. The winner is licensed to pester, harass, antagonize, criticize, complain and grumble without fear of reprisal for the whole next year.

10. Oversized roadside attractions are a plenty in the province of Alberta and there are way too many to mention here. These attractions include: A bull and bull rider (Brownvale), a beaver (Castor), a T-Rex (Drumheller), a corn stalk (Taber), a starship (Vulcan) and a piggy bank (Coleman).

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jasper Yoga Escape tour - deemed a success!

The weather was fantastic in Jasper during the first Urban Insight Yoga SoleWalk Tour.
13 participants boarded a 24 seater minibus and travelled from Edmonton out to Jasper on Friday afternoon, arriving in good time to check in and then head downtown for supper.

During the next two days the group enjoyed early morning yoga with instructor Angie Ackerman, followed by a guided hike of Maligne Canyon on Saturday and Beaver Lake on Sunday.

With good food, great company and amazing weather this tour proved to be a great success!

The next SoleWalk yoga tour will be held in the fall.  Join our Facebook page to stay updated.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Spring hiking at Cooking Lake-Blackfoot

The day dawned with a chilly breeze and light grey sky, but the temperature was warm for late March. Hiking is an activity you can do in almost any weather and today was a great day to start the season!

A friend and I decided to hike in Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area, a spot I had visited previously in the height of summer and snowshoed in during the winter.

Covering an area of 97 square kilometres, Cooking Lake-Blackfoot is located adjacent to Elk Island National Park, approximately 40 minutes east of Edmonton.

The area supports a variety of activities including agriculture, wildlife management, natural gas extraction and outdoor recreation.

During the summer, there are numerous activities available including hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Cross country skiing is the main activity during the winter and the area is host to the annual Canadian Birkebeiner Ski Festival.

With over 85kms of hiking trails originating from 4 staging areas, there is plenty of choice for hikers of most abilities and there are even some shelters and privies en route!

This day, boots with grip were needed as some of the trails were still icy. Those that escaped the ice were fairly sloppy, but not deep enough to lose your footwear!

There are also 85kms of equestrian trails in the area, so it can become a busy spot during the summer. We started our hike early at 10am, and were leaving when most of the horse trailers arrived nearly 3 hours later.

Cooking Lake-Blackfoot is known for its active wildlife, with management programs in effect that have created a wide range of habitats supporting numerous wildlife species. This time round we saw plenty of squirrels, a few birds and one fairly amicable young moose!

This was spring hiking at its best!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Upcoming Beauty & the Beast – sure to be a family favourite!

Two years ago Beauty & the Beast was an almost sold out show in both Calgary and Edmonton! Delighting an audience aged 5 to 8 years, the show was an astounding success.

This year, the Beauty and the Beast returns to Alberta, and will run in Edmonton only at the Citadel Theatre during the month of May.

Check out the Citadel Theatre for more information or check out the Urban Insight Beauty and the Beast package.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Silver Skate Festival - A great way to spend a winter weekend!

On Sunday afternoon, I experienced the Edmonton Silver Skate Festival and have to say it was great fun!

With blues skies and plenty of sunshine, the abundance of free events and hundreds of smiling faces made it a fantastic way to spend the day.

The Silver Skate Festival is the longest running winter festival in Edmonton is rooted in the Dutch tradition of a love of the outdoors and an appreciation for culture. In recent years the festival has expanded to suit Edmonton’s multicultural population.

In addition to watching ice dances and theatre performances there are plenty of activities for all the family to join in. We had hours of fun whilst ice skating, practising sledge hockey and sculpting a family ice house!

For those that are new to Canada or to the snow, this is a fantastic place to be introduced to some of our winter sports, with opportunities to snowshoe, cross country ski, ice skate and even enjoy a horse drawn sleigh ride. For the kids there is an ice slide, family snow-sculpting, clowns and face painting!

And here’s the fun part ... it is all free! (Donations are accepted).

If you missed out, it’s a little too late to experience the Silver Skate Festival this year; but look out for this fabulous family weekend in 2011!

For more information go to Silver Skate Festival

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Take the strain out of group travel ...

Organising a vacation for a group of friends or family is a great idea; you get to travel with people you know and like and you get to go to where you want to visit and include things that you want to do!

Unfortunately, choosing the destination quite often is the only easy part! Organising family and friends often brings more headaches that you originally anticipated; who knew that Aunty Bertha was allergic to feathers, dust, cats and peanut butter and that Uncle Bob snored incessantly?

An ideal way to take away the stress is to let Urban Insight Travel organise your Alberta group travel for you.

We recently organised a ‘girl’s weekend’ to Jasper. Not only did we arrange the accommodation and transportation, we also organised activities and made reservations for dinner.

Accommodation arrangements alone can be a difficult subject. We booked this group into three housekeeping rooms, each with three or four guests in a room. The rooms had a full kitchen, two queen beds and a sofa bed, which allowed those early risers to be able to get up and put the coffee on, before the others woke up!

Our group of ten females consisted of two skiers and eight snowshoers; five of which required snowshoe rental. Later four of the group enjoyed spa treatments, while the rest spent free time at the hotel hot tub.

The result? Ten happy travellers that still remained friends when they returned home!

Contact Urban Insight Travel for assistance with your group vacation at 1-888-756-2035 or go to Urban Insight Travel for more information.