September, 2012


30
Sep 12

Vancouver: where the wild things are.

I knew that things were going to be different here in Canada. I knew I’d see things I’d not seen before, eat food I’d not heard of before and that most popular culture references would go merrily sailing over my head. I was, however, unprepared to be confronted with unfamiliar wildlife on my doorstep.

I’ve never seen a real skunk before, so I imagined it would be a little like this. © Warner Brothers

Recently, I took Freddie, my dog, out for his evening stroll around the block and saw something trotting towards us. At first I thought it was a cat and called out to it, then I saw its white ‘bib’ and swaying tail… Skunk! I knew that I should avoid it, I’d already heard dire warnings of the stink of skunk spray, but it was so damn cute! Sigh..  sensibly, Fred and I retreated to the road to watch Mr Skunk serenely trot past. I was completely excited. I couldn’t believe I’d seen something so unusual – to me – right outside my house.

After this, I swore to never leave the house without my camera – so thanks to © John Biehler – who already knew that!

A few nights later, I walked past the rather swanky building at the end of my block which has a swimming pool. I heard something so, on tip-toes, looked through the railings to see what it was. In a scene that was straight out of Disney, three raccoons were frolicking on the cover of the pool in the shallow end. They were playing! Splashing each other with water, and rolling around. It was adorable. I stayed there, silently watching, a huge grin on my face, until Fred became impatient and woofed his annoyance. Busted! The raccoons froze, one stared at me, looking down its pointy nose with those beady eyes behind their ‘bandit mask’ and then scampered off into the bushes.

Lesson learned. Now I am never without my camera to record Vancouver’s amazing wildlife.

Just last weekend I took a drive out to Deep Cove, a beautiful spot; all rolling hills and calm clear water, just 30 minutes away from downtown Vancouver. You can kayak and hike there and they have the most amazing doughnuts at Honey’s.  As I was walking, I heard something singing. A bird? What? I looked up to the soaring green pine and saw it; not a bird, but something that looked like a squirrel. Perplexed, I tweeted to ask advice – and in yet another slice of Disney-come-to-life, it turns out it was a chipmunk.

I’m already quite in love with Vancouver, it’s full of great surprises, but who knew it was going to end up just like a Disney movie?

Pretty sure this will be me in six months time… © Disney

Keep Exploring Canada!


29
Sep 12

Edible Canada: because everything is better with bacon.

It’s nice when you get to see friends from home when you’re living the expat life and it’s even nicer when it’s a friend who loves food and travel as much as you do. Niamh who writes the superb (and award-winning!) Eat Like A Girl blog was out on a trip to check out the BC wine and food scene. We’d both heard about an All-Bacon take out menu, and she was just as keen as I was to check it out.

 

Make mine something with bacon…

Edible Canada is based on Granville Island, a great spot you can get to by way of the cute little Aquabus boats from downtown, for a fun few hours exploring craft stores and galleries, grazing at the magnificent market which is stuffed with everything from amazing artisan doughnuts to superb teas, great deli and cheese products and, of course, bars and restaurants like Edible Canada.

Can’t decide? Try the lot…

The take-out window offers a seasonal summertime menu and this time it’s a coast to coast bacon-themed one with taste influences from across the whole of Canada. As we couldn’t decide what to have, we decided to share and try the lot…

Unlike Niamh who’s famous for her bacon-infused creations like bacon fudge, Edible Canada have gone for a more bacon ON rather than a bacon IN menu; me, I’m just happy to eat it…

Just superb – the Whistle Dog

Here’s my two favourite dishes. The Whistle Dog is an ‘homage to the prairies‘, all-beef Two Rivers sausage from Alberta, in a deliciously-sweet brioche-y bun, topped with smoked Canadian cheddar from BC, bacon jam and bacon bits.

And heading across to the East Coast, to Quebec, a bacon-y Poutine, with hand-cut duck-fat fries made with potatoes from Pemberton, just north of Whistler, and then topped with cheese curds, caramelised onion, bacon and pulled-duck rillette.

Ah! Poutine with pulled duck and bacon. Yum.

Niamh and I were hosted by Edible Canada, however, my views are 100% my own.

Want to know more? Then Keep Exploring Canada!


20
Sep 12

Vancouver hotel low-down: The Loden

There was a pleasing amount of bustle and excitement as I checked into the Loden hotel; sequined gowns, elaborate hairstyles and a smattering of men adjusting their ties and checking their waistcoats. Pretty spiffy crowd, I thought, rather regretting not having worn something more dressy myself. But Vancouver always feels like such a dressed-down and casual town that I was tired of feeling like the only person not in flip flops!

After a few minutes swiping cards at the desk (how I love a pain-free check-in) I was zooming up to the 9th floor, sharing the lift with a woman in a dazzling dress.

“I love your outfit.” I told her.

“Thanks!” she said and anxiously checked her make up in the mirror.

“You look great.” I assured her.

“Oh! I’m doing hair for the wedding here today so need to look good for the photos.”

Spiffy dressers explained. Vancouver hadn’t undergone a style transformation, but perhaps if it stayed at The Loden it might… 

Sophisticated caramel and cocoa shades

Shiny marble floor in the bathroom, caramel and cocoa shades in the bedroom, a huge and pleasingly firm bed with crisp high thread-count linens in a room flooded with light from the floor to ceiling windows. Stylish indeed. I was glad I’d packed my favourite just-in-case red dress so I could get dressed up when I visited the bar and Tableau restaurant later.

I hit the bar and tried the house cocktail ’1181′ a citrusy fizz of prosecco, gin, elderflower syrup and lemonade. Nothing seems to match fizz as well as oysters and I’d never tried the local Vancouver island variety. Large and meaty with a faint cucumber-ish after taste I squished them with lemon and sucked and chewed my way though a half-dozen on the half-shell with indecent speed. Delicious! Tempting through it was to work my way through the small, but perfectly formed cocktail list and an ever-increasing pile of oysters, there was local wine to sample from the Okanagan Valley and the main course to order.

My new favourite thing: Vancouver Island oysters.

Tableau specialises in French bistro cooking so of course, it had to be the steak-frites, I asked for a wine recommendation and my server suggested a Pinot Gris from Naramata’s Nichol winery. It was a fruity and spicy white with a blush-pink tint that paired perfectly with the juicy steak and crisp twice-cooked fries. 

Juicy, buttery steak with salty, crisp fries.

The buzz of a good room on a great night can’t be beaten and that’s exactly the feeling at Tableau thanks to excellent table service paired with good solid cooking and some creative twists. Hotel restaurants used to be the last option of the unimaginative diner – but no more, Tableau proves that. And as for casual Vancouver? Well, if you want to feel stylish in the city, you know where to come to stay… 

I stayed as a guest of The Loden & Tableau, however, my views are 100% my own.

Like Canada? Keep exploring

The Loden: Reservations:  877 225 6336 /  Phone: 604 669 5060 / 1177 Melville Street, Vancouver

Tableau: tel 604 639 8692 / 1181 Melville Street Vancouver / info@tableaubarbistro.com


17
Sep 12

Travel tip #1: Learn to love jet lag

Almost ten hours flight from the UK and eight hours behind in time, jet lag is an inevitable part of any trip to Vancouver from Britain. After two days of 4.30am wake-ups, I decided that as an alternative to lying in bed, furious and unable to sleep, I’d try and turn this bitter lemon of an experience into lemonade instead.

Getting up and heading out before the sun has poked its head above the horizon always brings back memories of childhood holidays. We’d set off in the dark, bundled in our pajamas into the back of the car, sleepy and confused. The journey’s motion would inevitably lull us back to sleep again and waking on the back seat, far from home, seemed like one of the most exciting feelings in the world. This time I decided to spare any of my insomniac new neighbours my pajamas. Instead I dressed in layers to stay warm in the chill of the night and headed out into the dark, my excited dog at my heels.

 

Good morning, Vancouver

I’d Googled late night/early morning cafes and there was a 24-hour bagel place just ten minutes walk away. Siegel’s make Montreal-style bagels, which are boiled and then baked in a wood-burning oven, to make satisfyingly chewy-on-the-inside and crisp-on-the-outside bagels. Coming from the UK, where I’d be lucky to find perhaps 5 different varieties of bagel, to discover a great 24-hour place that had 21 different kinds had me gurgling with delight. I went for the Rosemary and Rock Salt breakfast bagel special: eggs and cheese with coffee – just $4.75 – bargain.

I stowed my freshly-made and wrapped breakfast in my bag. Freddie and I trotted down to the beach, me to feast on my bagel (just as good as I’d hoped), him to sniff out all those exciting new smells. Slowly the sun appeared and I watched it rise, the rays twinkling on the high-rises, turning Vancouver into the golden glittering city of my dreams. There I was, on a sandy beach, sitting on a driftwood log, full of hot coffee and eggy-cheesy herb-y fresh bagels, watching dazzling nature meet stunning architecture to create something new and wonderful.

 

Because everything's better with a bagel...

This wasn’t suffering from jet lag, this was a precious moment that I’d never have experienced without it. I vowed next time I couldn’t sleep, I’d do the same; not waste time fuming at my lack of shuteye, but seek out something to make me feel lucky to be alive. Preferably with a decent bagel to hand…

Keep exploring Canada 


11
Sep 12

Flying with your dog: happy landings

I’m here! Freak out over… My greatest concern about leaving the UK and coming to Vancouver was that Freddie, my beloved cocker spaniel, would not have a good flight. Turns out my dog is a better flyer than I am. I flew on Air Transat with Canadian Affair and they were just wonderful; incredibly calm, reassuring and understanding when I was wailing like a banshee at leaving my dog behind at check-in!

Freddie's been getting used to his travel crate for three months, so it felt familiar when he was on board.

When I got to the gate, I asked if Freddie had boarded safely and I was reassured again that yes, he was and was “quite vocal” about it! Once I’d sat down in my seat, one of the stewardesses even came to tell me that the captain knew there was a dog on board and everything was fine, no worries about temperature or air pressure in his part of the plane. Phew!

And off he went! *sob*

It was almost 15 hours later when I got to see him and I was overjoyed when I finally got through immigration and picked him up. I wheeled him outside in his crate and let him out and you have never seen a dog more happy to see a tree!

We’re just getting settled into our new flat by the seashore and there’s even a dog-friendly beach just 15 minutes walk away. More adventures to come very soon…

And here we are! On Freddie's new favourite doggie-only beach in Vancouver. Look at that smile.

Keep exploring Canada!

 


11
Sep 12

It’s hard to say goodbye…

There’s something they don’t tell you about when you’re getting ready to pack up and leave for a whole new life in a whole new country. I was expecting to be anxious about leaving; worrying over what to pack, what to ship and what on earth to take to the charity shops along my road in Brighton. I was even expecting to be upset about what the flight and trauma of the journey would mean to my dog, Freddie. But I wasn’t expecting to be weeping almost all the time in my last two weeks in the UK. Everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – has set me off!

Imagine your life becoming as easy to cry at as a paralympics montage! That’s how much I’ve been sobbing. I’m so upset at the thought of leaving my friends and my family that it’s overshadowing all the reasons why I want to try my luck in Vancouver, one of the most beautiful cities on earth.

But when life gets tear-stained there’s only one solution. Go somewhere no one can see you cry… and for me that means a spa with a good steam room! So that’s exactly what I did with my best friend Emma a few days before I flew off. I’d meant to check out the new spa opening at Ockenden Manor for a while. I’d stayed there years ago – dazzling Michelin-starred food and wonderful accommodation in the heart of beautiful Sussex countryside and heard good things about the spa. We weren’t disappointed.

The spa boasts wonderful floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a quintessentially English view and – best of all – they have a swim-through indoor/outdoor pool, so Emma and I could happily splash around under the rare September sunshine before heading off to the outdoor Jacuzzi to chill under the sky.

Later, wrapped in robes, we sat on a wall and watched placid chocolate-coloured cows graze before we did the same ourselves on huge quinoa super-food salads accompanied by a glass of champagne. We’d booked in to try the Ila Kundalini back massage and I have to say it was one of the best I’ve had; totally different from the usual long, flowing strokes of a Swedish massage, this used pressure point massage and hot stones and I found myself dropping off to sleep mid-massage – always the sign of a superb treatment!

Confession: this is not at the spa, this is Emma and I in Paris. But! I was all blotchy and pink and looked terrible. You don't want a photo of that ;)

Curled up in the relaxation room later, sipping tea, laughing and chatting I realised it would be a whole year before I got to do this with Emma… and yes, there were the tears again. Time to slip back into that steam room and hide my eyes.

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