September, 2013


16
Sep 13

Rocky Mountaineer Coastal Passage: the first Seattle to Vancouver trip

Oh! Sunsets...

Oh! Sunsets…

Travel used to be such an elegant affair; a tempting world of steamer trunks and porters, slow boats to China and postcards that arrived travel-worn and a little wrinkled at the edges bringing a whiff of far-flung adventure to your breakfast table. There’s no room for bus replacement services or low-cost airlines in that world and it’s a world that seems to have almost melted away. Almost.. but not quite. Not as long as there is a Rocky Mountaineer that is.

It was the inaugural run across the border from Seattle to Vancouver – a short journey of just a few hours – but a first for the company and a trip that I felt lucky to be part of. I’d watched in Seattle as the station staff lined on up the platform waving their flags to greet the first Vancouver train, “It’s here! It’s really here!” one exclaimed. This meant a lot to the railway – a new train – a new route – a chance to show off the great and grand things that train travel can be. The bags seemed to come first – whisked away by hustling porters, then the  passengers piled off the train, each of them fluttering little flags, chattering happily as they were greeted by smartly uniformed staff. Within minutes the excitement and happy fuss had gone and I was left alone admiring the blue and gold train that I’d take back home.

First time the Rocky Mountaineer arrives in Seattle

First time the Rocky Mountaineer arrives in Seattle

When I got onboard a day later I was happy in that very particular way that comes from scratching the surface of a big, beautiful playground of a city that you’ve never been to before that’s just a few hours away from home. Seattle looks like being all kinds of good times and I will be back again soon. Stepping onboard this beautiful shiny train was the cherry on top of an already perfect weekend.

I’d ridden the Rocky Mountaineer from Jasper to Vancouver a few years before – a wonderful trip that made me lose my heart forever to the mountains that give the service its name. This time instead of snow-topped mountains it was the shining sea that delighted me: the new Coastal Passage route takes you along the shimmering coastline of the Pacific Northwest. We rocked gently past wooden docks stretching out into placid water, hugged by lazily curving mountains. As we thundered past, we were met along the way by small groups waving; fishermen saluted us from their boats, picnickers returning home after a long day on the beach smiled, and kayakers raised their oars in greeting from the stillness of the clear water.

Dinner with a view

Elegant salad

I drifted downstairs to eat dinner – a crisp salad, a juicy slab of beef with a generous swirl of buttery garlic mash and fresh berries with ice cream – as the world passed by the windows. Even in the restaurant car, with its heavy white linen tablecloths, silvery cutlery and glassware, the views are great – and above, back in the lounge car with its wrap-around glass roof for panoramic viewing they cannot be beaten.

We crossed from America into Canada as the sun began to set. Sunsets this far west are – and I say this as a wildly-biased sunset lover – absolutely stunning and this was a corker. It began as a golden glow and then ran through every shade from peachy-orange to guava pink the light bouncing from the water reflecting into the carriages. It felt magical. It had been just a short trip but one which had crossed a border and taken us into a world where train travel was a joy again and the journey easily as pleasurable as the destination.

Calm coastal waters all the way

Calm coastal waters all the way

I travelled as a guest of the Fairmont (more of which in another post)

& the Rocky Mountaineer but my words and opinions are – as ever – 100% all my own.

 Find out more:

Rocky Mountaineer the Coastal Passage route here
Tourism Vancouver 
Visit Seattle
The Fairmont


3
Sep 13

Sweet taste of Vancouver’s DTES

East Van Roaster's Shelley Bolton

East Van Roaster’s Shelley Bolton

There are some very cool things happening in Vancouver’s downtown east side. The DTES, as it’s known, has a bumpy relationship with the rest of the city: it’s notoriously home to Canada’s ‘poorest postal code’, it has a large and troubling homeless population and drug issues and mental health problems clearly play a huge part. But things are changing. There are some incredibly inspiring stories to be found in the DTES – I’ve written about Maggie and her doorway  at Rainier Provisions before and the wonderful work that the East of Main café do – here’s a new one to add to the list: the East Van Roasters.

A coffee shop and bean-to-bar chocolate maker – the only one in Vancouver – East Van Roasters stands alone offering some of the city’s best coffee and truly delicious chocolate -  but add in that it’s a social enterprise which helps women who’ve been out of the workplace for a while get back into employment and open up new avenues of training for them – then you have something very interesting indeed.

Working hard cracking the cacao shells by hand to get to the nibs

Working hard cracking the cacao shells by hand to get to the nibs

One thing strikes you as soon as you walk in: this looks like a very funky coffee shop: it’s no shabby, corners-cut kind of operation. As you walk in, you can see the chocolate making going on behind the large glass windows. It’s a fascinating process – it takes some 40 hours for the women to hand-winnow the beans – cracking the shell and removing the nib. That 40 hours of work produces enough nibs to make one 30KG batch which creates 600 bars of chocolate – and of course the nibs then have to be ground, blended with the cocoa butter and other flavours, tempered and finally turned into bars.

Try a tasting plate

Try a tasting plate

Once you factor in the time that it takes to grow the beans it almost makes you feel guilty that you are gobbling down years of work in just a few seconds… almost – but not quite. I tried a tasting plate of different kinds of chocolate – I love  discovering new flavours this way – sampling the nibs and then the finished product. You can sip on mugs of rich creamy hot chocolate or do as I did – have an espresso made with the smooth house-roasted beans.  Snap up bars, truffles and other take home treats along with aprons or cool tote bags that some of the women make – all of which goes towards supporting this innovative enterprise that makes a real difference in the lives of so many women.

When chocolate and tastes this good – and does so much good too – the only sin is not eating it.

Find out more:
East Van Roasters. 319 Carrall Street, Vancouver.
(604) 629-7562
INFO@EASTVANROASTERS.COM

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