Big City Tales

Milan’s Perfect Blend of High Renaissance Art and High-Fashion Design

February 28, 2013
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The Duomo di Milano is one of the world’s largest and most beautiful Gothic-style churches.

The Cathedral may be one of Milan’s most visited tourist sites but at this time of year the star attraction is not high renaissance art; it’s the high-fashion design scene at Milan Fashion Week.

Fashionistas of the World Unite

From perennial favourites Karl Lagerfeld and Donatello Versace to newer names such as Veronica Etro, the who’s who of the high-fashion world clamor every year to Italy’s most populous region to reveal their upcoming spring lines. And what a perfect setting to show-off their stuff in!

Art, Art, and More Art

Chock-full of architectural wonders, masterpiece paintings, and elaborate sculptures, it is hard not to be inspired by this beautiful northern Italian city. Little wonder that Leonardo da Vinci was drawn to its charms (he lived in Milan from 1482-1499) and completed some of his best known works, including The Last Supper and Virgin of the Rocks while in the employ of the Duke of Milan.

Some 600+ years later, the city still boasts the feel and charm of the prolific Renaissance period, but now offers a more modern and edgy twist.

Make Way for Modernity

The Pirelli Tower is one of the city’s most unique skyscrapers, noted for its slim design and lofty height that surpasses the Cathedral. Another skyscraper of note is the Velasca Tower that is a 20th century interpretation of a medieval watchtower.

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Capping off the city’s transformation to the modern era is the illustrious Fashion District where tourists, haute couture designers, and Milan’s bevy of “beautiful people” intermingle in a state of pure shopping bliss. While not everyone can afford to drop a pay cheque for a scarf or purse, it doesn’t cost a thing to do a little window shopping – and many can’t resist the chance to do just that!

Whether marvelling at its historic art or revelling in its contemporary glory, Milan surely offers the best of both worlds…Andiabo!

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Getting Some Culture in the ‘City of Champions’

February 7, 2013
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Once upon a time the city of Edmonton, Alberta was well-known for producing championship winning teams in both the Canadian Football League (CFL) and National Hockey League (NHL).

With a total of 13 CFL Grey Cup titles, the Edmonton Eskimos football team ranks as one of the league’s most successful teams, and one of its most impressive dynasties in winning the Grey Cup five times in a row between 1979 and 1982.

The city’s other sports dynasty to be reckoned with in the 1980s was the Edmonton Oilers hockey club. During this period, the Oilers won the Stanley Cup five times and the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri, and Glenn Anderson became household names and local heroes.

Some 30+ years later, the city’s haul of professional sporting championships has dwindled, but even though the lustre of the ‘City of Champions’ mantra has faded, the city’s cultural scene continues to shine brightly.

Culture Comes in Many Forms

From museums to art galleries, to folk festivals and symphonic concerts, to improv theatre and street buskers, there is no shortage of cultural activities to take in throughout the year.  But it is the summer months when live theatre enthusiasts from near and far flock to Alberta’s fair provincial capital, particularly mid-to-late August when the annual Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival (a.k.a. ‘The Fringe’) takes place in the historic Old Strathcona district.


One of many public art installations around Sir Winston Churchill Square in downtown Edmonton.

The Fringe

The Fringe celebrates a variety of theatrical mediums, including improv, comedy, drama, and mystery productions staged in both indoor and outdoor venues. The festival also features a large offering of street performers, such as acrobats, musicians, magicians, puppeteers and other acts eager to display their talents and earn audience applause, as well as a few dollars for their efforts.


The Fringe is a ‘colourful’ two-week celebration and decorative posters from the past add to the festivities.

As summer festivals go, The Fringe is the largest of its kind in North America and for over 30 years has thrilled audiences with cutting-edge, world-class, unedited and uncensored entertainment. Add in a picturesque setting that spreads over multiple city blocks (not far off of trendy Whyte Avenue and close to the University of Alberta campus), it’s not surprising that The Fringe is a much-beloved cultural institution in Edmonton.

Street performers come to The Fringe from around the world. This extreme cyclist/juggler hails from Australia.

Art & Architecture

For those who prefer looking at paintings over watching plays, the Art Gallery of Alberta in the city’s downtown core just east of Sir Winston Churchill Square and City Hall houses a collection of over 6,000 art pieces with both permanent installations and rotating exhibitions. Recently renovated, the building itself is a work of modernist architecture with interesting views from the street level and within its inner stairwell and exterior patio.

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The Art Gallery of Alberta is a unique work of art and a wonder of architecture in its own right.

More eye-appealing architecture is just around the corner at City Hall. Featuring two steel and glass pyramids, a 200-foot clock tower, and a water fountain, City Hall flanks the northern end of Sir Winston Churchill Square. It is a popular destination for the lunchtime business crowd, as well as weekend explorers.

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Edmonton’s City Hall is known for its glass and steel pyramid that towers high in the sky.

For history buffs and followers of Alberta politics, a trip to the Legislature Building and surrounding grounds is a definite must. Standing 176 feet high and made with 1,100 tonnes of steel, the legislature’s elegant dome dominates the western end of the downtown skyline. Meanwhile, the immaculately landscaped grounds include a water fountain, a memorial garden, a bowling green, and an assortment of statues, plus a towering totem pole.

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In 2012, the Alberta Legislature celebrated its centennial anniversary in fine style and the grounds looked lovely.

Not far from the Alberta Legislature is the iconic High Level Bridge connecting downtown Edmonton to the Old Strathcona district located across the North Saskatchewan River. Whether you cross the bridge by car, on foot, or on the High Level Bridge Streetcar, it is a marvel of construction that is designated as a Municipal Historic Resource. The High Level Bridge is also noteworthy for being the route to take from downtown to the High Level Diner, a local eating establishment that has gained wide acclaim for an array of mouth-watering comfort food menu items. Be prepared for a long line to get in, but your taste buds will thank you for waiting!


The historic High Level Bridge spans the North Saskatchewan River and connects downtown with the University district and trendy Whyte Avenue.

Just west of the High Level Diner is the sprawling campus of the University of Alberta. Located in one of the city’s most established districts, the campus is dotted with fully grown trees along winding trails overlooking the North Saskatchewan River. Walking around the grounds, you can’t help but feel inspired by the beauty of nature and the beauty of century-old buildings such as Rutherford House, the home of Alberta’s first premier, Alexander Rutherford. Built in 1911, the house is now a provincial historic site and is supported by the Friends of Rutherford Society, a non-profit group dedicated to the home’s long-term preservation.

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Rutherford House is located on the peaceful and picturesque University of Alberta campus.

River Valley

The northern perimeter of the University of Alberta runs parallel with Edmonton’s River Valley, an extensive network of trails and parks where more natural beauty and historical gems abound. Chief among them is the Queen Riverboat, an old-fashioned paddle boat that sails day and night along the North Saskatchewan River and also offers a unique dining experience for those who enjoy partaking of a meal out on the open water.

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The Queen Riverboat operates day and night, offering a unique fine dining experience on the water.

Whether setting sail on the river, enjoying the wonder of the great outdoors in the River Valley and university areas, feasting on a sumptuous plate of steaming diner food, crossing a historic bridge, milling about with political figures past and present, admiring the work of notable Western Canadian artists, or taking in a highly lauded theatre production, getting some culture in the ‘City of Champions’ is a sure thing. And, who knows, perhaps Edmonton’s sports teams will return to their glory days and the city’s winning ways will once again become a ‘sure thing’ as well!