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Edmonton, the multicultural, "festival city," is a good bet year-round

by Micheal McNairn

Straddling, as it does, the vast prairies to the east and towering pine forests to the west (which in turn give way to the mighty Rocky Mountains), Edmonton has a historical role of being a crossroads or meeting place, a place where a traveler could come to refresh, refuel and re-energize before heading out again. That naturally attracted some colorful wanderers who came and never left. Thus the capital of Alberta heartily embraces its multicultural roots and has a thriving cultural scene, despite the city’s small town feel.

Some grumble about the weather (as low as –30 degrees Celsius in the winter to blistering +30 degrees Celsius in the summer), but this spasmodic temperature range seems to have inspired the population to cheerfully take advantage of whatever the sky hurtles down at them. Therefore, the choices of four-season recreational pursuits here are endless. For example, snowboarders and skiers will find excellent hills right in the city, let alone what’s available in the mountains, a reasonable drive away. Since the summer can be short, but intense, the city is liberally dotted with cafés, bars, bistros and pubs—most with patios—to take advantage of the roughly 15 hours a day of sunshine the city averages in the summer. It’s rumored the locals recognize one another by who’s wearing shorts February straight through to November.

The North Saskatchewan River cuts an impressive valley through the city, in essence dividing it between the modest, working-class north end and the trendier south side (where the University of Alberta is also located). Edmonton remains a cheap place to visit, especially in the south’s Old Strathcona neighborhood, where the student influence is also a bonus for travelers. Wallet-friendly places like the hostel, used book and music stores, eclectic watering holes and plenty of ethnic eats are easily located. Lively conversation and music can be had at the Black Dog Freehouse (where the bartenders are agreeably surly), while the best pizza in town is dished up at the Funky Pickle. The city is home to some 17-and-counting major festivals, most which take place either in or around the Old Scona area. Music, theatre and art are well represented and well attended throughout the year. The Fringe Theatre Festival attracts over half a million people to the site during its ten-day run and is second in size only to the Edinburgh Fringe in Scotland. Besides an incredible amount and variety of live theatre to soak up (from the truly awful to the truly sublime), there’s also plenty of opportunities to see and be seen on the super-friendly and licensed patios scattered throughout the festival grounds. Who knows what famous (or almost famous) actor or playwright you’ll rub shoulders with?

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