Edmonton Things To Do & Event Review: Christmas Glow

Lit up displays are found throughout the Christmas Light Gardens

If you follow any other popular Edmonton bloggers on social media, it’s likely that you’ve already heard of this. But, Christmas Glow is new this year, and it’s touted as the largest indoor festival of its kind around the city. I was fed a paid post on Instagram back in at the end of September. Since they were offering a discount (approximately 35 per cent off) as an early bird deal, I decided to grab a couple of tickets for me and Kirk to attend on my birthday. At $35.88 for both of us, I thought it might be worth the visit.

Santa’s Reindeers

Flash forward two months later, and it was finally here. We drove all the way to the Enjoy Centre in St. Albert on a Thursday night, hoping we’d make it for our timed entry (we chose the 6pm to 7pm slot). When we turned on to Riel Drive, everything slowed to a crawl. The venue does have a decent amount of parking, but cars were also lined up and down each side of the street. Thankfully, we managed to find something along the road. Thus, we walked a couple of blocks to get to the building. Although, once in the vicinity of the parking lot, we did notice a handful of spots, so patience may reward you.

Upon entering the building, we turned to our right towards the Moonflower Room. That’s where Hole’s typically holds a lot of large events. Plus, in the summertime, it’s where they run their garden market. All in, there is 60,000 square feet of space available, and Christmas Glow used every bit of it, including the greenhouse that is usually blocked off from the public whenever I’ve been there.

This is in the Christmas Light Gardens. Look at the reflection in the glass ceiling!

As we approached the door, I noticed that there was absolutely no one waiting to get inside. Three or four staff were standing about just looking for something to do. One of them eagerly waved us over, and, without even looking at the date or time on our ticket, she scanned them and told us to have fun. The minute we stepped through the threshold, I was overwhelmed. The place was insanely packed with people. They had fit in a few food stands to the left of us, so there were multiple lines snaking around. In the very middle of the main area was a grouping of tables where patrons could enjoy live entertainment on stage. Every single seat was occupied. To the right was a gift shop that seemed to belong to the Enjoy Centre. All the way at the very back of the room was the Glow-camotive, a small train that circles around it’s allotted zone.

We attempted to zoom past all of that without tripping over anyone, and entered the Christmas Light Gardens. Cordoned into different areas, there, you’ll find a licensed bar, interactive hanging lights (this was quite magical, especially with the reflection in the glass ceiling), Santa, glowing swings, mistletoe, light up hopscotch, a horse-drawn carriage, Disney-themed princesses, a musical light tunnel, and numerous other displays. Totaling over a million LED lights, it’s quite impressive. I certainly appreciated the work that went into it. Kirk and I got some pretty great photo ops in there. However, it was also over crowded. They say that they’ve sold tickets using time slots to help control that issue, but once people are in, they can stay as long as they want, and it seemed to me it was getting busier and busier as the night progressed.

Many of the children were super excited (I understand; I was a kid once, too), and that’s okay. Yet, I was practically mowed over by a few who weren’t watching where they were going, so needless to say this wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. With everything mentioned above, as well as a Magic Castle Playground and an area to write letters to Santa, Christmas Glow is definitely geared heavily towards families and kids. That’s not to say that it’s an absolute no go for childless adults (to the organizers, please consider adding adult nights in the future!). It’s just probably best for those with a lot more patience than I possess. I was only able to handle this for about an hour and then I had to go. I simply want to be honest about my personal feelings towards the whole thing. I’m glad that I went and had the opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out to be my favourite event.

We rarely have photos together.

It wasn’t a total loss though, I did find something in the pop-up Christmas Market that was anchored by The Makers Keep. Kirk bought me the cutest print, titled “High Flyer,” of a narwhal flying with the help of a bunch of balloons from art and stationary company, Paper Canoe. That was a lovely birthday present.

Me with my new print from Paper Canoe!

If my thoughts on Christmas Glow haven’t deterred you from going, you can still buy tickets through their website. It’s running until January 19. They are closed every Sunday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve. The rest of the time, they’re open from 4pm to 10pm Monday to Friday, and they start an hour earlier at 3pm on Saturdays. From December 10 to 12, they continue to offer discounted tickets at 25 per cent off available with promo code EDMONTON25. Dates that remain after will be regularly priced ($22.99 per adult; $16.99 for seniors, and children 4-12; free under 3 years of age; $69.99 for a family with 2 adults and up to 3 kids/seniors). You’ll also save a couple of bucks by ordering online versus purchasing at the gate. Happy holidays!

Edmonton Business Review: Escape City

Friends and escape rooms = fun!

I’ve been hooked on escape rooms ever since they were initially introduced to Edmonton back around 2014. I lapped them up and I would go on gaming sprees, usually dragging along a newbie or two. When we left, they were addicted as well. For those who don’t yet know, an escape room is an immersive experience whereby a group is “locked” in a themed room and they have to work together to solve riddles, clues and puzzles in order to breakout. They typically range between 45 to 60 minutes in length and cost about $25 per person to play.

About a year after I delved into that world, more businesses in this vein finally started to pop up, including one of my all time faves, Escape City. Located on 59 Avenue and 104 Street (Calgary Trail), it’s tucked away in the corner of an old strip mall. Walking through the doors, there has always been someone sitting behind the counter to greet patrons. Otherwise, it’s a very minimalist space with white walls, a couple of long benches, and cabinets for lockers. A large bulletin board next to the till showcases the teams who have broken out of their rooms in record time (Note: the times listed are remaining minutes in the game, not total minutes played). On the opposite side of the room is an accent wall with “Escape City” scrawled in red, which is great for photo ops.

It’s ideal to arrive 15 minutes in advance of your allotted time to ensure everyone has a chance to pay and sign the waivers (if you’ve played here before, they do keep them on file, so you don’t have to sign it again). As with any other escape room place, you are not to bring in any of your belongings. Phones, especially, should be locked away as it’s all too easy to cheat or make the game easier with them on hand. Plus, it’s important that photos aren’t shared of the room and its puzzles because the whole point of playing is to be challenged. Where’s the fun in knowing in advance what’s going to happen?

When the team is ready to go, a staff member will lead the way. They’ll present the house rules: no lifting carpets, no pulling on things that are nailed down, no climbing, etc. Then, a video introduction is played before the countdown starts and the game begins.

As an early subscriber to Escape City’s newsletter, I was invited to beta test for them. The very first room I got to experience was Keller’s Magic Emporium. At the time, I didn’t realize it was rated as their easiest room. Admittedly, I found it to be too quick to work through as we got out with probably 20 minutes to spare on an available 45 minutes (sometimes I don’t care about breaking a record; I just want to be entertained for as long as possible while still breaking out). What I did like was that they found a way to personalize the game a bit. Everything was quite linear, and the design was superb. They utilized some locks in the room, but there were a lot of other styles of puzzles, too. This one is best for beginners.

A taste of The Cabin. Photo courtesy of Escape City.

My second go at one of their rooms was with The Cabin. This was a well-though-out game and our group was literally a minute away from solving the whole thing. Alas, we failed, but it was very close. While it is considered to be one of the more difficult challenges at Escape City, I believe our ultimate downfall with this particular room was the size of the space and the number of players. Most of the time I struggle to get more than four or five people to come out. In this case, I recall having seven or eight in all. With limbs everywhere, visuals were blocked, hindering our ability to fully grasp everything we were supposed to see. My recommendation with the majority of places I’ve been is to have no more than six people.

Room number three at Escape City was The Inheritance. I’d only just started dating Kirk at the time. He was so enamoured with The Cabin that, on a whim as we were passing by one night, he decided we should zip into the front doors an hour before closing to ask if we could play an impromptu game. The staff was happy to oblige. I feel like we used a lot of hints (you can have up to two, if you want your time to count towards their rankings; otherwise, you can have as many as needed). But, what do you expect when you only have two brains trying to decipher stuff like this at 10 o’clock in the evening? We managed though. There were a couple of puzzles that we solved without doing it the way the room was planned (it happens on occasion). We also wouldn’t have gotten out within the actual 45 minutes. Thankfully, the employees working that night were nice enough to give us extra time. It’s been designated with a three out of five star difficulty rating and I think that’s a fair assessment.

Adventure four was The Great Discovery. It’s no longer running, but this one had a lab storyline and made sure to encourage the use of multiple senses in order to solve the puzzles. Our team worked well together as each person brought something to the table, and we felt really accomplished when we escaped this room.

The Hunt for Arms Magee (previously known as Quarterback Sneak) was the fifth room played at Escape City. It’s also classified as middle of the road in terms of the overall challenge. I have to say though, this was most likely my least favourite out of the handful of games we’d played here at this point. I didn’t think the quality of the room itself or the production value was as high as the others. Mainly in the first half (the second portion had a fun element), the premise felt silly and oversimplified in comparison. This room was a joint effort between Escape City and Explore Edmonton. It was originally meant to tie into the Grey Cup and pitted the idea of the Edmonton Eskimos against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. I thought they just tried way too hard to tie in Edmonton elements. They’re best left to making rooms where the imaginations of the designers aren’t hindered by the tourism board’s vision.

We excelled at Neurological! Also, this is apparently my lucky shirt.

Approximately ten months later, I finally found an excuse to go back. This time, we were celebrating Escape City’s third birthday (August 2018). It’s crazy to think that they’ve graced us with their presence for this long and even weirder to realize I hadn’t played any escape rooms in over half a year. We tried our hand at Neurological, one of their hardest. I’ve been told by many people who tackled it before me to go with a large group (eight to ten). In the end, I managed to wrangle together a total of five people. Needless to say, I was a bit concerned that we didn’t have enough brain power. Turns out, that worry was unnecessary. We demolished this room! Unlike the others, you start with 60 minutes on the timer, and we completed it with 11 minutes left to go. This one splits the team up at the beginning and the goal is to come back together to alight all the senses. It required clear communication and a lot of teamwork to succeed. We were told at the end that only 14 per cent of of the people who play this one break out, so we felt like superstars.

For those that want to hang out a little longer, you can either get there early or stay for a bit at the end and commiserate over a drink because, surprisingly, Escape City does sell cans of beer and a few other non-alcoholic beverages. Basically, it’s a great option for parties of any kind. While I’m not likely to throw a shindig here myself, they sure do know how to reel me back in. Seeing as how I had pretty much tackled all of their rooms, I wasn’t expecting to be return again any time soon. But, lo and behold, for their anniversary, they’ve just launched a new one called Frank’s Revenge about an uncle looking to even the score. If I have my way, curse be damned. Our winning streak has to live on! I’ll be back with friends in tow!

Edmonton Happenings: Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids

The stage at The Arden Theatre in St. Albert.

About two weeks ago, I dragged my fiancé to the latest Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids (GRTTWaK) event in St. Albert. It was the second one I’d attended. The first was two years before at The Mercury Room in Edmonton. I was, and still am, just a listener though. I’m not sure I’m brave enough to get so personal with a room full of strangers.

My ticket into the event as an attendee.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, the name of the event pretty much speaks for itself. However, to expand, this is essentially a ticketed touring open mic show run by Dan Misener and his wife Jenna. They’ve been doing this since 2007 after a Christmas trip the year before led them on a journey through Jenna’s old diaries and inspired them to gather friends to do the same. It’s now become a podcast hit with recordings made live during dates that are frequently scheduled across the country.

Grownup

Locals in each city they visit sign up to go on stage for about 5 minutes per person to read something from their past. It could be anything from a short story to a poem, or a letter to a class assignment, or something from one’s journal. Those who enroll have to check in with Dan and Jenna before the big day, so they get a sneak peek of what’s to come. Nevertheless, watching Dan react to each person’s share, I could tell he was just as surprised and delighted as the audience was whenever those big “oh my god” moments happened.

Admittedly though, GRTTWaK isn’t my first foray into this world of teenage and childhood artifacts. In fact, I became obsessed with the film Mortified Nation when I saw it on Netflix a few years back (they now have a Netflix series called The Mortified Guide). The premise was pretty much the same. Yet, the founder of Mortified, David Nadelberg, was based out of the United States and launched his similar endeavour in 2002. I loved it so much that I wanted to be the one to bring it north of the border.

Little did I know that Dan Misener already beat me to the punch. It was my friend who introduced me to GRTTWaK, which really doubled my fun when it came to hearing these stories of adolescent horrors, gut wrenching heartbreak, true happiness, etc. that almost everyone can relate to whether or not they realized it when they were younger.

I guess that’s the irony of it. Things always seemed like such a huge deal as kids. We blew things out of proportion and we assumed we were the only ones to be feeling the way we did. More than likely though, our neighbour or our friend was experiencing it, too. It shows us how caught up in ourselves we can become, but I also think that we sometimes have a depth that goes beyond our years. Many of the things people have shared are so insightful and introspective. Others are lighthearted and hilarious.

What I do think is important to remember is that, whatever it is we have in our history, whether it’s good or bad, we’ve come through it. We can look back and learn from our pasts and, hopefully, we can have a chuckle at it as well.

I definitely recommend that if you’re located in Canada, register for the GRTTWaK newsletter. You won’t get a ton of emails. You’ll just be looped in on upcoming events that you can attend. Also, be sure to check out the podcast. It’s available through their website, Spotify, Apple, or Google. While each episode of the Mortified podcast delves deep into the share of a single individual (even doing a follow-up with the reader who provides a bit of extra discussion about their story), GRTTWaK episodes are usually about 25 to 35 minutes long and cover multiple brave souls in one sitting. It can lead to a roller coaster of emotions, but it’s worth the ride.

Check out this GRTTWaK episode, posted on August 27, 2017 where my friend Michelle decided to read an original story she penned about a horse family:

https://art19.com/shows/grownups-read-things-they-wrote-as-kids/episodes/883b32c2-7483-4bb7-8048-7c7c87fd0f9b/embed?theme=light-custom

If you’re interested in hearing an episode from Mortified, listen to this one about Amy, a first generation kid, growing up in America:

https://play.prx.org/e?uf=http:%2F%2Ffeeds.getmortified.com%2FMortifiedPod&gs=_blank&sp=all

Edmonton Business Review: Board N Brew

The interior of Board N Brew.

There’s been an influx of board game cafes in Edmonton over the past few years. One of the newest ones is Board N Brew. Situated on 99 Avenue and 103 Street, it’s probably the most spacious and better designed spots of its kind in the city, and it’s only a hop, skip, and jump away from my office. It’s sort of easy to miss though. Unless it happens to be on your route to and from work, there’s a good chance you’d be unaware of its existence.

Alcohol is served here.

Now open for about 15 months, I gathered some friends for an evening of board games after work in the middle May. Since groups can reserve space before 8pm, I took the opportunity to book us a table just in case. The six of us trickled in between 4:15pm to 5:30pm on a Wednesday night. At first, the staff seemed to be attentive. Someone came over a few minutes after we arrived to take drink orders (a can of Stiegl Radler was $6.50), and another returned a short while later to put through any food we wanted.

The menu is quite succinct with a focus on snackable items. However, they do offer Battista’s calzones and a few entrées that seemed to require more than a microwave or panini press to cook (most of the other board game cafes tend to stick with sandwiches and wraps). One such item was the Chicken & Waffles ($15), which I opted to try.

Chicken & Waffles with Kettle Chips

Really, when it comes down to it, this is a fairly simple dish. It requires batter, a waffle maker, chicken, a fryer, and some maple syrup. I found the waffles to be good. They were crisp, but still a touch fluffy on the inside. The chicken was breaded and seasoned nicely. The meat was clearly solid white chicken breast and it was still juicy. Whatever herbs and spices they used had some heat to it, too, giving the meal some added flavour. A cup of maple syrup sat on the side, so I was able to apply it as I felt was necessary. Served with the waffles was a bowl of plain kettle chips. I’m not sure what brand they were. I doubt they make them in-house or anything. I would have preferred a dip to go with them. Thankfully, my friend gave me her leftovers from her Naan Sampler, so I could have something to jazz them up.

After our mains were had, that’s when the service went down hill. They kept forgetting to bring over things people had ordered (not unlike my previous experiences at places like The Gamers’ Lodge or even at Table Top Cafe on occasion), and they eventually stopped checking on us.

Board Game Legend

Staff aside, Board N Brew is awesome when it comes to their selection of games. At a rate of $5 per person to play as long as you want, it’s worth it. I love their game legend, which breaks down how they’ve sorted everything on the shelves. It makes it easy to find what one is looking for. Also, maybe it’s because the place is relatively new, but most of the cards and pieces in the games we chose to play — Cards Against Humanity, Taboo, Spank the Yeti, Rhino Hero, and Rhino Hero Super Battle — were clean and in excellent condition. I really appreciated that as I’m a bit of a germophobe and feel absolutely disgusted when I come into contact with sticky surfaces. So, score one for Board N Brew in this respect!

As I mentioned previously, the layout of the venue is great. Large booths that seat six people each line all of the windows. Other configurable tables are located in the center of the space. At the back, there are two private rooms. Both can be booked in advance, although they do require minimum spends. The lighting is also pretty good, especially during the day when sunlight comes streaming right in. Staffers are also supposed to be able to assist with game explanations, but it depends on whether or not they’ve played it before.

Overall, we had a wonderful time. Sure, the staff can use some additional training to bring the service level up. Otherwise, the food and drinks were satisfactory (for the majority of us; likely to each their own), the shop was orderly, and, best of all, it was an incredibly affordable outing.

Edmonton Happenings: Streetcar Shows Edmonton

Singer Ken Stead performs for us atop the High Level Bridge.

Streetcar Shows Edmonton has been chugging along since 2013. Founded by Tad Hargrave and Zizi Lievers with Peter Seal hosting and photographing events, it’s probably one of the city’s true gems. These are intimate concert experiences taking place on electric streetcars run by the Edmonton Radial Railway Society. I’ve been registered to their mailing list — currently closed on their site, so check their Twitter page or join their Facebook group for updates — for two or three years now, but I always found it difficult to get my hands on tickets. By the time I’d read the newsletter and linked over to Eventbrite, the 32 spots would already be sold out.

The streetcar being prepped for our trip across the High Level Bridge.

This year, I happened to sign into my webmail account at just the right moment and I snagged two tickets for the inaugural show of the 2018 season. I was ecstatic to finally be going to a Streetcar concert. Taking place last Thursday, May 17, we arrived at the train platform located behind the ATB Financial Arts Barn in Old Strathcona about 15 minutes prior to embarking. Peter checked our names off of his list and we waited until we were told to climb on. NOTE: There are no washrooms on board. If needed, make sure to use the one in the barn beforehand.

Ernie, one of the drivers of the streetcar, gave us a history lesson.

The restored streetcar had two drivers for the night, but Ernie was our guide. He gave us a little bit of a history lesson as the vehicle made it’s way down the tracks towards the middle of the High Level Bridge. Moving along, Edmonton’s downtown skyline eventually game into view. Once we’d come to a full stop, Peter introduced our performer of the evening, Ken Stead. While he sang (and joked), the river and traffic flowed quietly beneath us as we basked in the slowly setting sun.

 

Ken Stead, born and raised in Edmonton, and now residing in Calgary, has a soulful voice. Despite living in Canada, his Irish-Scottish background seems to come out, in the form of a slight lilt, when he speaks. He flipped between his own original songs and covers that ranged from Foy Vance to Bill Withers, fully encompassing the persona of a down-to-earth folk-rock artist.

 

Lasting about 45 minutes, the first half of the show went by quickly. The streetcar then trundled northward towards the other side of the High Level Bridge. We were supposed to take a break at the stop directly across the street from the Legislature Building, but the driver overshot it, and we ended up going all the way to the Grandin Station terminal. There, we were able to get off and stretch our legs while the musical equipment was shifted to the other end of the streetcar. The backrests of all the seats were flipped to face the opposite direction, allowing passengers to be seated again in the direction of travel. It also gave all of the riders an opportunity to be closer to the show as those who previously sat at the front were now at the rear of the train.

Out on the bridge once more, we were treated to another 45 minute set. Being above the water, it started to get chilly as the darkness fell, but the close quarters and the music helped to warm me to my soul. As we returned south, we came to a surprise standstill in a heavily graffitied tunnel for one final (sing-along) song. It sounds like this is something they do at every show, but I won’t give every single detail away. All I can say is that it makes for a special moment.

Inside the tunnel at the end of the night.

Two hours after our departure, we found ourselves back where we started our musical journey. It’s definitely a night that neither my fiancé or I will ever forget. It was so much fun, and I’m already itching to go to second Streetcar Show as soon as possible. Haven’t been yet? I urge everyone to follow their pages. You may luck out and catch a post about tickets in the nick of time.