Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

In the market for GOOD TIMES

Downtown square a great place to hang out

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Sitting in class at the Roblin Centre, Red River College's Princess Street campus, and looking out the window at gorgeous sunny days I'm missing in exchange for an education can be difficult at the end of the summer.

But hitting up Old Market Square during breaks helps ease me back into the swing of being trapped indoors all day. This beautiful little park is my favourite place in all of Winnipeg.

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There is nowhere I would rather eat lunch with classmates I'm just getting to know. Within the confines of the cafeteria, awkward questions about where one another grew up and went to school and why they're in the program, questions teachers ask as part of getting-to-know-each-other first class activities, circulate the table. Being at Old Market Square stimulates much more interesting conversation. The cube stage is a great topic to discuss with new school friends. Questions of opinions on the structure inevitably lead to tales of friends who tried to climb the monstrosity only to have their fun ended by cuts from the sharp edges or the discovery we were both there for the same Fringe performance a couple months earlier.

When this conversation subsides, it usually turns to poutines (inspired by Smoke's Poutinerie) or tales of late-night adventures through the Exchange District fuelled by the sight of the King's Head Pub. Before I know it, the time to head back to class rolls around and we're well past the questions the teachers will make us answer next period.

And if no one wants to join me? Instead of sitting in some dark corner eating my lunch alone and feeling like a loser, I am listening to music from free concerts and watching everyone from hipsters to hippies to suits wander through Old Market Square. With Mondragon just across the street, I can leave a few minutes early if there isn't anything too interesting going on and grab a strong cup of coffee to get me through the afternoon.

Being back in school can make finding time for old friends difficult, and with a busy schedule it's often necessary to get them to make the trek downtown to visit me. Old Market Square is the place to meet because even those suburban dwellers in my friends circle who wouldn't know how to find Urban Forest Coffee Shop can get there no problem. "You know that weird metal stage thing..." Of course they do.

It's also a place we can hang out on the weekend when our empty wallets limit our options to anything free. Even when the heavy curtains of the cube are lowered and there are no live performances, being in Old Market Square feels like actually doing something. Unlike hanging out in someone's backyard, you're surrounded by people having fun, chatting and keeping busy. I like to bring food or coffee and enjoy a little picnic before wandering around the area to do some window shopping. Or I'll bring a sketch pad and paper or camera to capture the architectural beauty surrounding the park. Even if I had a full bank account, there's seldom something I would rather do than kick back in Old Market Square.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 25, 2013 A8

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