December, 2012

Dec 12

Powder and Pamper in Whistler Part Two: The Pamper

I love to visit a spa on pretty much any occasion, but that afternoon as I creakily got into a cab at the Westin to the Scandinave spa, my thighs already beginning to ache after my first morning on the slopes, I felt for once that I really deserved what lay ahead. The Scandinave specialise in Nordic spa-ing, a traditional form of relaxation through heat and bathing. Located just a mile or so out of Whistler village, the Scandinave could not be any prettier; from the car park you get to it via a winding pathway through the trees (dusted with that powdery snow!) which seems to set the mood that you’re about to enter a different world.

Relax in natural beauty at the Scandinave

The reception area is cosy with a roaring fire and small cafe area. I checked in and got two towels and a key for the lockers. Once showered, changed and in my bathing suit, I padded outside into the cold air and tip-toed towards the large heated pool. The spa space is silent which lends a positively dream-like atmosphere to the experience. Steam rises from the heated pools and the only sound is of the pool’s waterfall. I sank into the hot water and felt incredibly sleepy and happy. Hydrotherapy jets are stationed around the pool to pummel tight muscles into relaxed submission. I spent 20 minutes soaking up the heat before braving the next part of the Nordic spa experience: the cold plunge.

A waterfall massage surrounded by the mountains? Yes please!

I am a coward when it comes to this. I creep rather leap into the cold. I know that it does marvellous things to help cleanse my pores and remove toxins but I am a wimp. However, I think I finally found the secret, instead of stepping in, I just sat on the side and fell in. I stayed with my head under the freezing water, feeling my heart pounding and the blood racing to my skin’s surface. I bobbed around for a minute, trying hard not to shriek, then leapt out, grabbing my towel and scurried off to the next part of the Nordic spa experience; resting.

No, not me, but seriously, I was too chilled to take a camera!

I lay down in a heated solarium overlooking the beautiful mountains and trees. Close to sleep, I felt positively drugged. My achey legs ached no more. My body felt positively boneless. I repeated this cycle twice more and by the third time I was feeling invigorated and alert again. In the space of a few hours I’d gone from physical exhaustion to feeling like I’d had a restful night’s sleep. Those Nordic types knew what they were doing…

Find out more at Tourism Whistler.

I travelled as the guest of Enjoy Whistler however my views are 100% my own.


Dec 12

Powder and Pamper in Whistler

Terrified. That’s how I feel as I trudge towards the ski school check-in at Whistler village. I’m going to have my first ski lesson and I am absolutely bricking it. I should explain, a few years ago I had surgery on my spine. It took 18 months to get back to being OK again and I’ve just been too scared to try anything even slightly risky ever since. But I figured that it was time to stop being scared and start taking a few chances. After all, moving half way around the world seems to be working out OK, so why not learning how to do that swishy-snow-thing on one of the world’s best mountains too?

I signed up with a ‘Powder and Pamper’ package through Enjoy Whistler, so I can get a taste of whether hurtling at speed strapped to a couple of high-tech planks is my thing or not  — with a side helping of relaxing in the Scandinave Spa‘s outdoor hot pools and cold plunges afterwards. Earlier, I’d checked into the Westin, right in the heart of the village and decided that I’d get in some quality ‘relaxing in front of the fireplace’ time before I head out later. If, indeed, I can still still walk…

Radiating waves of confidence: meet Dave, my instructor

After nervously signing in, I’m despatched to the equipment hire area, which is when I start to feel seriously out of my depth. Everyone seems to know what they are doing except me. I get strapped into a pair of ski boots and rapidly discover that I cannot walk in them.
At all.
I’ll never even get to the gondola to get up to my lesson…  I sit sadly on a bench and wonder whether I should really do this when Dave appears. Dave is my instructor, a man of some 50 years experience who is a cross between santa and a cheerleader. He shows me how to walk (heel, toe), swiftly organises the right skis and poles for me, fits me with a helmet and confidently leads me out towards the gondola.

As we ascend the mountain in flurries of snow (Whistler was having record amounts of snow ‘dumping’ that day), Dave explains how to correctly hold my skis, where to put the poles while we’re in the lift and tells me a little about himself. By the time we arrive I am feeling completely relaxed and ready to learn. We take it slowly; first walking around the nursery slope learning the moves that I’ll be making once the skis go on. Next, learning how to actually put the skis on. We get joined at this point, by two late arrivals. There’s never more than four in the classes and even with the two extras, I feel like I get enough attention to be able to learn. I’ve snapped on one of my skis (“Toe in, heel down, stamp the bug!”) and we practice sliding around in circles on one ski. I like it! I feel excited; maybe this could be fun? We take a while to learn that there is no left or right ski and practice putting them on and taking them off.

One-legged skiiing? Whatever you say, Dave.

Just when I’m feeling all confident, Dave raises the stakes. We’re going to go down the slope and learn how to stop. On two skis. Dave wants me to do this by adopting a wide-legged stance and making the toes of my skis make a V shape. I show Dave just how well I can do this by falling over. It’s nice, flat on my back in the snow. Soft. The snow cooling on my already-achey muscles.

It feels tough, trudging sideways up the hill with baby-steps, I’m scarlet-faced and hot. This feels hard. Again I try doing what I’m told, but again, I just don’t get it. It’s only when Dave suggests that I imagine I’m carrying a tray that things start to fall into place. Add an imaginary basketball between my knees and whaddya know? I can stop! “Atta girl, Nikki! Whooo!” enthuses Dave as I wobble down the briefest incline on the hill and  successfully grind to a halt. I feel like something clicked. Amazingly, not my back. I’m getting this! I stomp up the hill again. Higher this time, then go back down, pointing skis in, bend aaaand stop, then rise, look forward, (holding my imaginary tray) and swoop forward. It feels great, I’ve a huge grin plastered over my face, I love this!

Soaking wet, bruised and completely delighted

Dave beams with pride and tells me that I’m graduating to level 2. We get to go over to the moving walkway that’s been installed on the slopes a little further up which takes us to what seems like a dizzyingly distant slope. My last task before we break for lunch is to zig-zag down the slope. I get 4 straight runs in, gaining more control each time I do it. It’s taken two hours and I am hooked. I’m soaked to the skin from the blizzard, covered in bruises, but could not be happier. I’ve conquered the ‘powder’ part of this package and am more than ready for my ‘pamper’.

First time I managed to stop without falling over. Whooo!

Find out more at Tourism Whistler.

Nikki travelled as the guest of Enjoy Whistler 

Dec 12

Adventures in Vancouver dining: Wildebeest

If there’s one restaurant that people are talking about a lot these days, it’s Wildebeest; a Gastown-borders, nose-to-tail eating joint with a bold agenda for ‘unabashed adventurous cuisine.’ I’m no fan of buzz as a rule. Buzz is for the bees and is usually as insubstantial as a soap bubble, but after a second trip to see the ‘Beest-y Boys’ in action, I think I’ll be adding my shouts of praise to the throng.

Let’s start off with the basics: I love an atmospheric room to eat in – especially one with an open kitchen where I can watch the crew perform their gastro-ballet and synchronised plating. Wildebeest has all kinds of extra details that catch the eye too — quotes from writers on the wall, vintage light fixtures and a rather lovely solid wood door that’s been repurposed as a bottle rack by the bar.

Downstairs in the wine bar…

I was torn the first time I ate here; half the dishes I loved — just adored to the point of wondering if I could get away with some sneaky plate-licking — but a few left me cold. A porridge-y side served with pork bewildered me; each on their own were fine, but together? And then there was a take on chicharon which seriously misfired; I was left with gummy fried pork adhered to my mouth. Yes. My life is *that* glamorous. But the custard-y, foamy Chawanmushi, with Dungeness Crab I could have happily eaten in a bucket, it was incredible and the shortribs, hands down the best I’ve ever tasted.

Seriously hard for me not to just… lick the screen. Best. Shortribs. EVER.
Credit – Peter Bagi

I went back at the weekend and I’m so glad I did. The incredibly-adhesive chicharon is gone. As is the pork-y porridge. This can only be a good thing. In their place, wonderful stuff… I tried an octopus dish with light, peppery olive oil hollandaise (is this a ‘thing’ in this town? First at Fable, now here?) and my new favourite thing, a Fiore Farm chicken duo, with a positively whipped-it-was-so-creamy polenta and the most delicious flavour-dense jus. Adored it.

This is the first time I’ve seen ‘dining’ cocktails too. I tried a Fitty Fitty, a blend of Nasturtium-infused gin, vermouth and salt that made me wince when I tried it at the bar – but with food – it became the perfect foil. Loved that.

Spread on that toast – oh! Heaven.
Credit – Peter Bagi

It’s a menu made for excitingly high-stakes dining. No scaredy-cat, fussy eaters here – the bone marrow is gelatinously meaty and just made to luge sherry with, chicken hearts and duck liver dance alongside sweetbreads and schnitzel. It’s the kind of dinner that you want to take a date to —  just to see how down and daring they get with the food. Bold eaters are terribly attractive, everyone knows that, right?  So, buzz aside, the hype, for once, is real. I will be back. And you should absolutely go there too.

I ate here as a guest of Tourism Vancouver/Wildebeest. My views are 100% my own.

Find out more at Tourism Vancouver 

Dec 12

Three month-i-versary

So, it’s been three months since I arrived in Vancouver and so far, I’ve not regretted it for a second. Sure, there have been times when it’s been tough being so far from everyone and everything that I love, but thank goodness for Skype and social media! I get to feel like I’m still sharing in my friends’ lives and although talking on Twitter or Facebook is no substitute for sitting down with my mates, well, it’s better than waiting for weeks for an airmail letter.

How can you not just stare and stare?

How can you not just stare and stare?

Vancouver has dazzled me with its beauty. If I was smitten before, it’s a full-blown love affair now. Staring at the clouds and mountains has become my new favourite thing to do. Right next to staring at the skyline at night.

Beautiful at night, with the dazzling city and lights of Grouse Mountain twinkling

I’ve got used to the torrential rain. I’ve started to dress for downpours and have become utterly unselfconscious about stomping around in my rubber boots. I’ve taken to feasting on Kale, the leafy green brassica that’s in every Vancouverite’s shopping basket. Most importantly, I’ve started to make friends.

I made kale chips. This makes me a local, right?

Next week I move to my new apartment. Bye bye Kitsilano, hello West End. I’m so looking forward to living there and exploring another part of this gorgeous city. Small problem: it’s unfurnished and I don’t have any furniture, so, for a while it’ll be awfully minimal! But that’s just so much less to clean, right!? So, here’s to new beginnings…

Stanley Park. Turns out I moved to the end of the rainbow…

Feel inspired: Keep Exploring Canada


Dec 12

My first Vancouver hotel love revisited. I’m still crushing on The Opus

Seeing your first love again after a couple of years… well, that can be kind of complicated. You have all those expectations. Will your heart still flutter? Will they still excite you like they did? Make you feel special? Or will it be a terrible let down and leave you sad and depressed for days?

Oh, I should explain. I’m not talking about an ex-boyfriend. I’m talking about the very first hotel I stayed in when I came to Vancouver for the very first time two years ago, The Opus. I’d arrived by train from Toronto, a life-changing 4466KM, four day, three night journey that had me swooning over the sheer size of Canada and its amazing landscape. I got to the ViaRail station in the morning in a state of profound nature-worship and got a cab to Yaletown, where I checked into this gloriously sexy city hotel. At the time I wrote that it was, “…Absolutely everything a boutique hotel should be; sexy, smart, stylish and giddily decadent.” Would it still have the power to charm me? Yes, yes. YES!

Seriously snuggle-worthy

I was checking out one of the newly-renovated suites and oh, I’m happy to say that it didn’t disappoint. My beloved moodily-lit disco-lift – all funky music and slow-changing lights - still put a smile on my face, I sashayed down the softly-soft carpet to my room and wondered whether I’d still get that giddy feeling once I got inside.

It’s enough to give a girl ideas…

I guess sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder, because, if anything, the new designed rooms are saucier than ever. Oh, there’s still that knowingly party-friendly minibar, packed to the brim with re-tox and de-tox options and the gleaming Nespresso machine, but add to that an in-room iPad, a roaring fire at the touch of a button, sultry art work, all shiny lips and soft, squishy furniture that just begged for you to curl up and snuggle. The suites are pleasingly spacious; the lounge area perfect for a spot of room service as I enjoyed that hypnotic fireplace. The bedroom glamorous enough to ignite a fire of its own for any lucky couple who get to stay there. And if you’re a bit of an exhibitionist, well, the light-flooded windows of the bathroom face out over an office. Me, I kept the blinds low and enjoyed the Jacuzzi tub. But you, well… I bet you’d keep them open a bit, you saucy thing.

Sunny side up

In the morning, my four poster bed was so comfy I briefly considered chaining myself to it, to avoid leaving, but breakfast at La Pentola was calling, so reluctantly, I left its embrace and drifted downstairs. I’d eaten at the restaurant a few weeks beforehand, rustic Italian with a BC twist. There were a couple of dishes that I’d especially loved; a smoked veal tongue that was carpaccio-thin and a kale and ricotta-stuffed pasta that I could have happily eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Eggs were on the menu this morning though and a tasty sausage perfectly paired with an apple jam. I left with a dance in my step and a head full of new and wonderful memories. I’m still crushing hard on The Opus. The flame still burns for my first Vancouver hotel-love. Can we make this a regular anniversary date? I hope so…

I stayed as a guest of the Opus, however, my views are 100% my own.

Dec 12

Clouds in my coffee: brunch at Fable

Oof. Homesickness has hit. Just like Proust got sucked into a world of nostalgia and memory from one bite of a madeleine, so I found myself in tears after a sip of latte at Fable on West 4th. It was perfect; silky steamed, frothy milk and rich, smooth coffee – just exactly the way I love it – and how the fine folk at Small Batch make it in Brighton.

Silly, but it tasted of home and made me cry…

I thought of all my friends that I missed sitting and having coffee with and oh, it hurt. Silly really, to cry over coffee but isn’t it always food that makes you feel connected to memories and special occasions? I’m sitting back at home now, indulging in a small sob-fest. It’s three months on Thursday since I arrived in Vancouver and this is the first time I’ve felt truly homesick. How typical that it was because of a coffee!

Only another six days until I can brunch-out and eat this again…

Fortunately apart from weeping over the latte, I was also raving over the brunch menu at Fable. I went with my friend from Toronto, Alyssa, who confessed to being not much of a brunch person – but looks like she may have changed her mind after the dazzling meal that we shared. We kicked off with brunch cocktails; a pink grapefruit Cava mimosa for me (loved the tartness of this) and a tongue-tingly spicy Victoria Gin Caesar for Alyssa. We split the special, a smoked salmon benedict, which came with a satisfying wedge of almost-candied smoked salmon, completely different from the usual waxy sliver of salmon that arrives with a benny. Paired with a peppery olive oil hollandaise and dressed salad leaves, this had us both gurgling with glee.

An extra squirt of Parmesan foam? Yes please, chef!

The must-have is definitely scrambled eggs; served in a glass jar, layered with buttery spinach, salty bacon and topped with a parmesan foam; they arrived with hefts of fluffy brioche and a brilliantly-crunchy rosti. After one bite, thoughts of how far I was from home faded and instead I started to feel glad that I was within walking distance of these eggs instead.

Perfect scrambled eggs.

I tried the french toast – I’m not a fan as a rule, maybe it’s the cinnamon, maybe it’s the overly-sweetness of it? – but this might change my mind. I liked the chewy, carmelised, buttery edges and the smooth dollop of Mascarpone, along with the freshness of the blueberries served on the side, cut through the usual teeth-rattling sugaryness. Alyssa loved it.

Let’s just call it a possible game-changer.

We sat at the bar – recommended for fans of kitchen theatre and the sheer joy of watching a good crew work together – but next time, I plan to bring a crew of my own, maybe for the monthly boozy brunch, and sit in the back. It’s time I started to create new traditions in Vancouver, and I think brunch at Fable is just the thing to make me feel at home.

We were hosted by Fable, but my views are 100% my own. In fact I’ve been back for that boozy brunch a few times since – it’s still great!

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