Cowboys and Calgary

As we rolled through the mountainous surroundings of Banff, heading towards Calgary, the landscape slowly began to change, as though someone was dragging an eraser across the tops of the Rockies. They gradually diminished in size, until all that was left were rolling hills, valleys and fields as far as the eye could see. After two weeks of glaring white snow covering the ground, the advance of yellow, straw-like grass was heaven. I’ve missed fields, grass – and horses, obviously. As tempting as it was, I managed to remain inside the coach, despite the number of herds we passed, the horses out naked, their fluffy coats visible from the wide Canadian roads.

Everywhere we’ve visited so far has been entirely different to the place before, and Calgary is no exception. There’s a faint smell of dusty barn and old horse equipment that lingers in the air, and Stetsons sit firmly on the heads of mustachioed men as you walk around.

On our first evening, we headed over to watch the Calgary Hitmen, and witness our first hockey game. Being somewhat apathetic towards the majority of team sports, I wasn’t too sure I’d enjoy it, but as soon as we entered the venue, you could tell it was going to be incredible. We were sat eight rows from the rink, right behind the Hitmen’s scoring side and in among some serious Hitmen fans (my favourite being the 70-year-old woman wearing a giant hockey jersey. I can only hope to be as cool when I’m her age).

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The Hitmen play at the highest level of junior hockey, but you wouldn’t think they were under 20 while watching them. The clashes were aggressive, they flew around the rink like they didn’t have knives attached to their feet, and the number of fights that were (sadly) broken up rivalled the amount in top league games. Despite the violent tackles and ruthless hockey-stick swipes coming from the players, the crowd were the complete opposite. Docile, quiet and respectful towards the opposing team’s fans, they were not what I was expecting. Maybe that’s the case: when a sport is fairly tame on the field, the fans are testy and riot-inducing (not looking at you football, not at all…), and when the situation’s reversed, the fans are far calmer.

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Either way, it was a brilliant night out, and far cheaper than going to see a team like the Canucks. For rink-side seats, we paid $25, and I’d happily pay that again.

On our first full day, we explored the city itself, wandering around the streets only dictated by the green men on traffic lights. Being English and able to cross roads without the direction of lights, Sophie and I have been jaywalking our way around Canada (it’s a surprise we haven’t been arrested for it yet), and the look of shock on people’s faces still isn’t getting old.

Seeing as we were in cowboy land, visiting a country and western ‘club’ had to be done, so Wednesday night we rallied round and went to Cowboys – a strange place located in the middle of a casino. Walking in, we were greeted by Stetsons, boys with their shirts undone, Shania Twain’s guitar and Cotton-Eyed Joe. Country music alternated with standard club music, and as the night progressed it became clear why people go out in Canada.

They don’t seem to go out to drink – they go out to dance. As country songs took over, couples took to the dancefloor, showing off their moves. Guys span girls around their heads, legs, arms and across the floor. I’ve never been so impressed, and Sophie and I stood in a semi-daze, pointing at whoever was whacking out the best moves.

When one of the dancing cowboys asked if I wanted to try it, I had little choice but to say yes (Sophie is very persuasive when she’s shouting YES DO IT GO NOW and pushing you out). That night, I learnt three things about country dancing: a) you can do it without having a clue what’s going on, b) your partner doesn’t give you any warning before back-flipping you 360-degrees around their arm, and c) it’s so much fun and makes Dirty Dancing look as impressive as big-fish-little-fish-cardboard-box.

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