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Reports

Friday, 11 July 2003
--> Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

As I so far only had a reply from one of the ten people who have invited me at their place in Edmonton, I had already arranged that I could stay another day with Sylvia, Doug and the kids. It was fine by them and Sylvia had already taken the day off.
Today we had planned to visit the West Edmonton Mall. It was a bit against Sylvia's principles and it is supposed to be against my own values. The only thing with this mall in Edmonton is that it is the world's biggest mall. For a change I did really want to see that mall.

The brochure of the mall already announces "Your adventure waits" because at the West Edmonton Mall there is more than only a wide variety of stores, coffeeshops and restaurant. This mall has eleven mentions in the Guinness Book of Records, including being the world's biggest mall.

The complex extends over the equivalent of 115 football fields (or 48 city blocks) and boasts more than 800 shops – of which some 110 are restaurants – plus 19 cinemas, and 11 department stores. For a change this mall has so far only done good to Edmonton. It employs some 15,000 people, captured 30% of the city's retail business, but it did not really kill the downtown area of the city as the mall is really way out of town.

Sylvia had already approved my driving yesterday, so she let me drive the nice 1995 Ford. She actually had a hard time telling me the directions to go. She only told me in which lane I had to go, not why. It happened a few times that I heard on a crossing that I had to go left or right. "You have to tell me that before we reach the crossing," I told her. "I know," she said. "You can guess I am normally the one that drives." It was actually quite amusing.

"Get in the right lane. Not after this traffic light, but after the next one."
"And then?" Because the directions were pretty confusing for a driver who doesn't know any road in town.
"Then you turn right."
"So it's right after the next set of lights?"
"Yes, that's what I meant."
"Okay. Got it."

And I parked the car on top of the world's largest car park that surrounds the mall.

The visit to the West Edmonton Mall is pretty captivating. What at first sight just looks like any several-storeys high mall with a centre point and various directions from there, ended up in this exaggerated adventure park with a few shops in between everything.

I mean, not every mall has a ice skating ring, the world's biggest indoor lake with a big historic ship and four working underwater submarines, dolphin shows, an amusement park with the world's only indoor bungee jump, a thirteen storeys free fall experience, a fourteen-storey triple loop roller coaster and by no means a collection of swimming pools, water slides and wave pools!

I started to wonder: how much of the West Edmonton Mall is actually a mall?

It was sometimes just too impressive to be real. I honestly think that if you take your kids here, they would actually get bored after a while because nothing is left to their own imagination anymore.

You want an actual train that rides through the mall? Just hop on! You want a dragon that spits fire? Watch your head! You want to eat your pizza on board of the replica of Columbus' Santa Maria? Just sail away!

Sylvia and I made it back in to the outside world called reality. Especially when we found out that I kept the lights on and the car's battery was a goner. Sylvia decided to call the Alberta Motor Association and ask for a boost. We were waiting for this help for over fifteen minutes when I finally got out of the burning hot car and asked people if they could help us out with a boost. No more than two minutes later we left the world's biggest mall in exchange for the city.

I had to see one more thing. And that was the district that gives Edmonton its cultural character. The Old Strathcona district south of the North Saskatchewan River grew up at the end of the nineteenth century. When its population reached about 7500, the new town was incoprporated into the city. Today, it's still the city's best preserved old quarter, and the nicest to wander around on a sunny day.

And yes, the weather was still great and next to that: the 8th annual Whyte Avenue Art Walk was held today! Over two hundred artists had settled themselves on the side walks, busy with their crafts or exposing their arts.

The Strathcona districts contains most of the 2,000-odd restaurants in Edmonton and Whyte Avenue is the main drag, containing fascinating little stores, cafés, restaurants and shops. At the big Mall I saw an hallway that pretended to look European, but if you take away 4-lanes from the 6-laned Whyte Avenue, this street will look very European too!

As our tummies were calling for attention, we ended up having a Po'Boy burger at the Dadeo Restaurant on Whyte. If you are looking for a place where you will feel totally in the 50s, this is the place to be. Maybe I have watched too many movies from these times, because I truly love the particular look of these soda fountains!

A day filled with a walk through all the world's largests and biggests and strolling up and down a highly cultural avenue was already pretty overwhelming to me. Back home I had to lay down for a while to defragment my head.

In the evening, when Doug had returned back from his work in town, we had dinner at the grill restaurant Moxies. The occasion for this dinner was Stuarts 13th birthday tomorrow and the family settled to go today, because tomorrow there Ramon wouldn't be around. Moxies is Stuart's most favourite restaurant, according to his father because Cecily like most of the food here. "She is quite a picky eater," he explained.

The food was good, I had a great plate of Chinese teriyaki noodles, but the service was just too good. Yes, too good. So, good that this good service became the running gag during our meals. Our table had the young and enthusiastic Jeff was our waiter and Jeff asked us on an average 3.5 minutes if we were okay, needed any more drinks, any water or if we were still okay. After a few times I actually started clocking his frequent stops at our table - just to see if it was coincidence.

Doug and I almost wanted to answer his question when he came around asking if we were doing alright: "Yes, but there is this waiter asking us if we are alright every three minutes."

After dinner we actually had to hurry to get back to the house, because Sylvia had invited some friends and neighbours for a little get-together around a small bonfire in the back garden. While enjoying a drink and playing with a few dogs, I met up with Dutch friends Anneke and Patrick, one ex-neighbour and friend of the family and some real neighbours.

It was the neighbour from across the street, Ian Fisher, who I had already seen yesterday, as he drove behind us in his silver Porsche.

I was seriously pulling his leg when I asked him if I could drive his Porsche. I never expected him to say "yes, sure!"…

He opened his garage, threw me the keys and we got in for a short drive around the neighbourhood. That was fun; I barely fitted in this little sports car!

But I was driving a bloody Porsche!

"Just give gas so you make some 4,500 rounds per minute, to feel the engine," Ian said while we were on the road. It wasn't even my car and he asks me to almost blow up the engine? Okay. "And take an extra spin on this roundabout. Try to stay above a speed of 60 km/hr."

I would never ever go 60 km/hr on a round-about! But okay, I had to try it and it was thrilling! I was actually sweating of anxiety when we got back to his house! How often would I get to drive a Porsche?

Around 11 pm it became pretty dark and it was time for everybody to hit the beds. Tonight Doug had to sleep on the living room couch, because last night Sylvia couldn't sleep good enough because of his snoring and a little cold. The kids were pushed away from the computer ("But mum, I am only chatting with my friends!") and the lights were dimmed. I was the only one awake in the computer room.

Time for a warm cup of coffee and my laptop connected to the web. I just had to tell you about today. Outside it has started to rain and I hear loud thunder coming closer to the city. Had I told you about the tornado alert that is going around the last few days?

Good night Edmonton!

Ramon.