The Journal returns with a few thoughts on the latest port of call for the American soccer traveling circus. It isn't going to be a daily thing anymore - the notebook of stories from around the World Cup is seeing to that, as is my travel schedule from here on out. But when stories arise, I'll share them here.
EDMONTON, Alberta - I follow a lot of Canadian journalists and soccer fans on Twitter. Almost all of them live in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. A fair few of them often engage in the parlor game of bashing every other city in their country for lacking culture relative to wherever they are.
This is not at all uniquely Canadian phenomenon, of course. As someone who grew up in D.C. and now lives in Philadelphia, I've long since had my fill of New Yorkers doing the same thing to anyone who takes their sanctimony-laced bait.
But I had been reasonably convinced by my friends north of the parallel that Edmonton was boring. Coming here after spending four majestic days in Vancouver left me even more skeptical.
I shouldn't have been. This town isn't that bad at all.
If you're coming here for the United States' round of 16 game against Colombia on Monday, you'll find plenty of ways to pass the time before kickoff.
Start at Winston Churchill Square. It just so happens that the American fan brigade has hit town at the start of The Works, an arts and culture festival that runs from June 19 through July 1. The square is the center of the action, with other events and activities at venues around the downtown core. Check out a full schedule here.
From there, walk to Jasper Avenue and check out the sweeping views of the prairies on the other side of the North Saskatchewan River. Edmonton's downtown sits atop of a huge hill, though you won't realize that at all until you hit the observation areas on the south side of the core.
(It so happens that my hotel has a terrace overlooking the river. I could spend a lot of time just staring out from there.)
At some point, you will want to eat. Here, Edmonton excels. Just walking along the blocks near my hotel, I came across a slew of interesting and reasonably prices restaurants, bars and gastropubs. You can even - and I know this will appeal to a certain segment of the soccer crowd that follows me on Twitter - get good tacos.
The place to go is called Taqueria Tres Carnales. I checked it out on my first night in town, thanks to a recommendation from renowned Edmonton-based soccer writer Steven Sandor. It was as good as advertised.
Beyond the city center, there's the West Edmonton Mall. It is even bigger than the famous Mall of America near Minneapolis, and it is just as over-the-top as you would expect. If you venture out that way (which is easy enough to do by car or bus), you might be there for a while, whether you intend to be or not.
There's an amusement park with three roller coasters; a water park with 15 slides; a subterranean aquarium featuring penguins, sea turtles and sharks; a large pirate ship parked in the water atop the aquarium; an ice skating rink; a 13-screen cinema with an IMAX theater; two miniature golf courses (one of which uses blacklights); a gun range; a giant Chinese supermarket; a Bitcoin ATM; a supper club; a nightclub; a comedy theater; and a casino.
All of those things are under the same roof.
Heck, there are even two - yes, two - soccer gear stores hawking piles of knockoff European club jerseys. Neither sells FC Edmonton gear, for the record, but at least both sell Canada jerseys.
follow me on Snapchat, you can see a collection of pictures I took on my trip to the mall and its environs. You can judge for yourself how much of my commentary was snark and how much wasn't.
When I finally got back downtown, I noticed that the first regiments of the American fan army were starting to arrive. I don't know what they've heard about Edmonton in the past, or if they're on Twitter.
Maybe it's better to come here with an open mind. Maybe it's better to come as a cynic and be proven wrong.
Either way, I would glady argue that Edmonton is not boring.