Thursday, April 27, 2023

I Hate Winnipeg

It’s been exactly 6.5 years since we went on a vacation (and even that was actually a work trip for Barclay on which Sully and I tagged along). There are a lot of good reasons for this, though having a good reason for something that makes you sad doesn’t make it make you less sad. Not that I’ve been over here feeling sorry for myself—I know vacation is neither a right nor a need—I’ve just missed being out of town, with my family, with nothing to do but look around and drink coffee.

So, you say, where’d you go on your first vacation in almost seven years? Costa Rica? Rome? New York? 

No! Winnipeg, Manitoba!

I didn’t expect this to be something I would have to justify to so many people. I had a lot of conversations in the weeks leading up to our trip with people who tried to talk me into a “better vacation.” Somewhere warmer but also cooler, somewhere farther away, somewhere people go on purpose. 

Yeah, well. 

We went to Winnipeg on purpose, and we had a lovely time. And, because this is my blog where I document my life, even the parts of my life which I spend in Winnipeg, I will now proceed to document this trip as though it were a once-in-a-lifetime luxury vacation to, I don’t know, Paris.

(It was kind of like Paris, actually, in that I heard someone speaking French in a coffee shop in an area of Winnipeg called St. Boniface while, unbeknownst to them, I ate a croissant! Ooh la la. C’est chic.)

It takes almost six hours to get to Winnipeg by car, and the drive is well-suited to car games, because there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to distract you (except for, on our way home, one building burning completely to the ground while firemen stood around looking bored). Our car game of choice was Song Title Dominos, wherein one person picks a song title (say, for example, One Great City! by The Weakerthans) and then everyone in the car has to quickly think of a different song title with one of the words from the first song title (say, Midnight City by M83). Only rule: you have to be able to think of the song and artist without using technology. Happy to report that my family can enthusiastically and competitively play this game for actual hours. 

The high point of this drive was a stop in Brandon, where my sister lives with her husband and two kids, and also where there is a coffee shop called H Coffee where I got myself a baseline latte, against which to compare all of the many vacation lattes to come (if you’ve been here for a while, you know that my favourite vacation pastime is drinking as many lattes as possible and ranking them, as though I’m going to have to give a latte report to someone at the end of the trip. No one has ever asked this of me but maybe someday it’ll happen and I will be ready).

(H Coffee set the bar very high. It ranked #1 overall.)

When we arrived in Winnipeg, we dropped our stuff off at the AirBnb and headed straight for the LEGO store. 

Here is where I admit that this whole entire trip was instigated by Sullivan, who just wanted to go somewhere that had a LEGO store. He asked one day, “Where’s the nearest LEGO store?” And I said, “Winnipeg.” And he said, “Can we go to Winnipeg on our school break?” And I said, “Probably not, buddy.” And then I said, “Actually, it’s been a really long time since we went anywhere together. I’ll talk to Dad about it.” And then Instagram immediately started showing me ads for things in Winnipeg, because the Internet is, clearly, on Sully’s side. 

So we went there, and that was very exciting for Sully, and then we went back to the AirBnb where he built his new LEGO thing and we had charcuterie and went to bed.

You are already just so enthralled with our trip; I can tell. AirBnbs! Malls! Deli meat! 

You are looking up flights to Winnipeg, you are throwing clothes into duffel bags. I knew you’d come around.

The next morning, we woke feeling like we hadn’t slept at all, and this is because we hadn’t slept at all. One of the kids fell out of their very high bed, and the other just wasn’t used to sleeping somewhere new so they woke up at 2 am and didn’t. Go back. To sleep.

C’est chic.

We went to the Exchange District in desperate search of caffeine and something to eat. We found a tunnel draped with twinkly lights and we went through it and found a donut shop that smelled like fresh pineapple called Bronuts. We went around the corner and found a coffee shop full of whatever the modern-day version of hipsters is called Parlour (Latte Ranking: #3). We went around the corner again and found an enormous toy store with an emerald green door called Toad Hall Toys. We wandered around it for a million years; it was vast and interesting and had an older gentleman sitting in the back corner building model trains. We went around the corner again and we didn’t end up where we began—and I think this might just be a failure of my memory because that’s impossible—and there we found a record store called Into The Music that felt just like the one in High Fidelity and I asked my family if we could spend a million years there the way we had at Toad Hall Toys and they said no, but we did spend a hundred years there and purchased three albums—Alexi Murdoch’s Time Without Consequence, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ It’s Blitz!, and one of the very few Rush albums we don’t already own, Counterparts.

At some point in our wandering, we saw a sandwich board for a sandwich shop called King + Bannatyne advertising—you guessed it—sandwiches. We went back to it at lunchtime and had the most lovely sandwich shopping experience. Highly recommend. The person working gave us free cookies for the kids which, they said, were made out of the bread heels(??). These strange bread heel cookies tasted amazing, and we were kind of surprised about that. Go to Winnipeg just for King + Bannatyne; it’ll be worth it. Tell them I sent you. (They will be like, “Who?”)

At this point, Scarlett started getting antsy. It was almost time for her most anticipated event of the trip and she could no longer contain her excitement.

Because the other reason we went to Winnipeg on purpose, besides the LEGO store, was because Scarlett wanted to see a certain statue. 

I don’t remember how or why this started, but every night before bed, instead of reading to Scarlett from, I don’t know, a book, I read to her from a Wikipedia article. The article is about the real Winnie the Pooh, who was purchased at a train station in Ontario for $20 by a man named Harry who hailed from Winnipeg and, thus, named the bear Winnie. Scarlett loves this article; she finds the story of the real Winnie the Pooh joyful and beautiful and heartbreaking and compelling. Some nights it makes her cry when Harry has to loan Winnie to the London Zoo to go off to war (she is concerned for his safety and worried that Winnie will be lonely without him). Some nights she focuses on the fact that a little boy named Christopher Robin really existed and that his dad, A.A. Milne, liked to take him to the zoo where he was allowed to literally RIDE A BEAR. She loves hearing about how tame and cuddly the real Winnie was. Some nights she asks me to [demands that I] insert completely made-up paragraphs about how safe Harry was in the war and how safe wars are and how much he and Winnie missed each other while he was away at the very safe war and how he came back after that war to see her and how they still live together to this day, ALIVE and NOT DEAD in a tree in the actual Hundred Acre Woods which really totally exists. Some nights she asks me point blank if the real Winnie the Pooh is dead and I have learned that she knows the real answer, and that she wants me to lie to her. 


The article I read to her states that there are two statues of Winnie the Pooh in existence—one at the London Zoo and one at a park in Winnipeg, and the one in Winnipeg is of Winnie AND Harry. It immediately became Scarlett’s most important goal in life to take her stuffed Winnie the Pooh to see the statue Harry and Winnie the Pooh IRL.

Do you want to see her face when she saw this statue?

She was so excited. We went to see the statue twice, once on Thursday and again on Saturday and she was equally excited both times. Of note: Sully was very excited to see Scarlett see the statue, which I thought was cute.

And, because the Winnie statue was located in Assiniboine Park, we also took her over to the Journey to Churchill exhibit to see REAL bears (polar ones), which she promptly decided were also Winnie the Pooh even though they looked nothing like Winnie the Pooh and there were two of them. She really is just so amazing at choosing her own reality—wars are safe, Christopher Robin is immortal, all bears are Winnie the Pooh.

We walked around the rest of the zoo for a couple of hours and then our feet hurt so we headed to our hotel for a quick swim (for Barclay and Scarlett) and a game of ping-pong (me and Sully).

(Side note: why don’t all hotels have ping-pong tables? Our hotel had one, and a foosball table, and also a rad play place called Pirates Cove, which swallowed the kids up so Barclay and I could drink our fancy Winnipeg coffee in peace. Why don’t all hotels have all of these things? Tell me, do your fancy Parisian hotels have all of these things? No? Then what good is Paris?)

We had supper at Za and then lattes at Thom Bargen (Latte Ranking: #5–it might have been higher but the barista seemed determined to glare at me the entire time we were in the shop and it was uncomfortable and then unnerving and then just downright irritating and I think it affected my taste buds). 

Then we went back to the hotel and everyone except me fell asleep IMMEDIATELY. I was tired but determined to not waste these precious moments of silence and solitude; I drank my Thom Bargen latte in bed along with some Lindt chocolates I’d discreetly bought for myself earlier that day for this very reason. 


That night was better, in that we slept. Novel. C’est magnifique

We had breakfast at our hotel, and the thing we enjoyed most about that was the fact that every time the waitress came out of the kitchen, she carried with her a carafe of coffee, and every time she checked on a table, she set the carafe down behind her, on a different table or counter top. By the time we left, there were carafes everywhere. A sea of carafes, two or three on every surface.

Is this a funny story? I’m thinking now that maybe you had to be there. Maybe if the breakfast had been better we wouldn’t found the carafe army so hilarious.


Anyway, then we went to The Forks, because everyone is always like, “Oh yeah Winnipeg, yeah, that’s…fun…there’s, uh…well, there’s an IKEA and there’s The Forks.”

So we went to The Forks, which, for my non-Canadian readers, is where the Assiniboine River flows into the Red. There’s, like, a market and a children’s museum and some other things. Bridges. Trails. It’s nice to walk around, so we walked around it. I don’t know why this is the Definitive Winnipeg Thing, along with IKEA, but it’s nice.

For lunch, we went to the Hargrave St. Market, which is like a mall food court for those modern-day hipsters. Like, instead of Arby’s and Taco Time and whatever, there’s $25 pizza and fancy ramen and, yes, lattes (Fools & Horses, which ranked #4). It was fine. I felt intimidated by everyone there. 

We took our coffees and went back to the hotel so the kids could play and we could sit for a bit. Again, this is one of those things that I knew in theory would happen, but could not fully appreciate until the time came: how much kids ruin one’s ability to truly sit down on vacation (without being prepared to immediately spring up again), and how much I would appreciate a three-floor play place in my hotel. 

One we felt adequately sat, we packed the kids up again and headed to The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which is free (and very, very quiet) on Friday evenings, apparently, and which is just such an incredible experience. Truly. We spent two hours there, probably could’ve spent an entire day if not for the four shorter legs we brought along with us. Don’t get me wrong: the kids loved it too, it’s just a lot of walking, up and up and up these sloping alabaster ramps that wind back and forth between the core galleries. The subject matter is heavy, and there’s so much of it, and the building itself feels like it was perfectly designed to match the information it houses—even the fact that as you progress through the building, you are constantly able to see both where you have come from and where you are going, constantly someone is saying, “Oh, we were just there!” Or, “Wow, we still have quite a long way to go.”

At the top of the museum is a tiny spiral staircase that takes you to THE ACTUAL top of the museum; it winds up and up and the glass does not feel like enough to keep you from plunging to your certain death. It has a sign at the bottom that says you can continue at your own risk, and Sully opted out there, so just Scarlett and I made the trek. 

Apparently, I have recently developed…not a fear of heights, but a nervousness of heights that makes me giggle a lot. There’s a glass elevator at the top that takes you—a tiny bit too quickly—all the way to the bottom, where you can, once again, look up and see all of the places you’ve travelled to. 

Anyway. You should check that out. 

For supper, we went to Yafa Cafe for Arabic street food. It was on the way from our hotel to literally everywhere we went, and every time we drove past it I looked at it and wanted to go in. 

So we went in.

The kids’ taste buds are very, very chill. They don’t like to be startled or challenged with spice or heat or flavour. They like foods with notes of “butter” and “plain” and “if this has too much pepper on it I’m sending it back.” But weirdly enough, they love Arabic street food, which is the antithesis to everything they generally demand food-wise. Pleasant surprise! Makes no sense! Oh well, we’ll take it!

As a family, we give Yafa Cafe 5/5, two thumbs up, and bonus points for the decor.

Uneventful night after that. Slept again, that was nice. 

Our last day in Winnipeg was spent in St. Boniface, the aforementioned French neighborhood. We got coffee and croissants at Postal (latte ranking: #2) and then hit up a book store and a cheese shop, where Sully excitedly purchased cheese curds so he could make his own poutine. 

We made one last stop at the LEGO store, one last stop at the Winnie the Pooh statue, and got one last latte (Folio, latte ranking: #6–hey, someone has to be last) and then hit the road.

All in all, a lovely trip! We would go to Winnipeg on purpose again.


Michelle said...

This was just completely delightful to read.

Tim Mc said...

This was great - thanks for sharing.