Life in Canada


8
May 13

Celebrating a BC Spot Prawn spring

Spot prawn season begins...

Spot Prawn season begins…

I’ve never lived anywhere so ‘seasonal’ before; and I don’t just mean the weather, Vacouverites seem to live and breathe seasonality in their food. I noticed it first just before christmas, it was ‘pumpkin season’ and everywhere there was pumpkin pie, pumpkin latte, pumpkin doughnuts, pumpkin ales… you get the picture. Then it was ‘egg nog season’ and  again – ‘nog was to be found in absolutely everything. Then the arrival of the exotic King Crab… most recently there was halibut hysteria when, remarkably, even the big name supermarkets were proudly shouting about their fresh, seasonal, sustainable fish.

Spring morning on English Bay

Spring morning on English Bay

I spoke to a friend Sophia about this and her theory is that because the weather is so fiercely seasonal, people are more in tune to eating what’s fresh. She may be right, you are in no doubt what time of year it is in Vancouver; in autumn, you crunch ankle-deep through a patchwork of colourful leaves, in winter you wilt under relentless torrential rain and grey, grey skies with snow-covered mountains appearing once in a while through the gloom, and now spring is here flowers are bursting from ever corner. I cannot wait to see what summer has up its sleeve. There’s also the matter that chefs here in Vancouver are rock stars, followed and adored by their foodie fans. And of course, these rock stars want the very best produce to create their masterpieces – which means sticking to the seasons.

I took a photo. You never want to forget your first time...

I took a photo. You never want to forget your first time…

The Spot Prawn season began yesterday at precisely 12pm, I was lucky enough to get my first taste at Yew and I’m off to the Spot Prawn festival (seriously) at the weekend. It’s a four-to-eight week season and I intend to dive in head first and try them as many ways as possible. If living seasonally is the way to live in this town, count me in. I love the excitement and anticipation of enjoying something for a brief period of time. Now I know that when the last of the cherry blossom has fallen, it’s Spot Prawn season… I wonder what happens next.

 


30
Apr 13

I admit it: I have become a total nature-worshipper since I got to Vancouver…

Yup. I'm swooning over flowers.

Yup. I’m swooning over flowers.

And so it would seem that I have become the kind of nature-worshiping hippy who drools with glee at the sight of FLOWERS and TREES. The rot set in during autumn when I found myself beaming broadly whenever I walked outside to see the leaves doing their annual colour-burst parade. But the start of spring, with the cherry blossoms in full bloom like so many pink and white pom poms on the trees, has done for me. Oh Canada, I blame you entirely for being way too pretty. You have completely turned my head. 

Everything seems about to burst into flower

Everything seems about to burst into flower

It’s good, I suppose, to see that all that torrential rain for months and months and MONTHS had some purpose: to create the riot of jaw-clanging natural beauty that I see everywhere in Vancouver right now. I took these photos on a ten minute walk around my neighbourhood. Everywhere buds on plants and trees are aching to pop; I know that I’ll see new flowers from day to day and I’ve found myself eyeing green shoots and thinking, ‘Ooh – what colour will that be tomorrow?”.

Flowers all the way down to the sea

Flowers all the way down to the sea

Most wonderful of all is the feeling of walking in a confetti-swirling storm of cherry blossom shaken from the trees whenever it’s windy. I come home and shake flowers from my hair. I walk down the streets, strolling on a carpet of crushed blooms. It’s intoxicating. And in the exact opposite to sweet-smelling blossom, I saw my first skunk as I came home late last night. How odd that skunks by night and blossoms by day should be my clues that we’re closer to summer than winter.

In every corner of the city there are flowers

In every corner of the city there are flowers


4
Apr 13

In which I’m mostly flat…

Most of the time living here in Vancouver I feel like I’m on a great adventure. Every day brings a fresh discovery; I eat something I’ve never tried before, see birds I’ve never seen, meet new people – I love it. However, the problem with being so very far from home is that when things go wrong, you feel every single millimeter of the distance. I’m not OK at the moment. I’ve been flat on my back for the past week, can’t walk properly and it looks like I’ll be that way for a while more.

This has been my view for the past few days. I am BORED.

This has been my view for the past few days. I am BORED.

Being unwell when you’re by yourself is never much fun. Turns out being unwell when you’re by yourself AND thousands of miles from everyone you love really sucks. If I were just by myself, I could probably stick it out thanks to grocery delivery companies, Netflix and Skype, but I’m not alone; I have my dog and he needs to be walked. Right now, I feel like Blanche duBois in Streetcar, having to ‘depend on the kindness of strangers’. I know I’d be fine in Brighton, I’ve known my friends there so long that we’re family to each other, but I’ve only been here seven months and when it’s ‘new’ friends, you have to wonder just how far you can push asking for favours. I feel lucky that my neighbour Wendy is a sweetheart and so I don’t feel bad calling to ask for help and I’m even luckier in my friend Van who’s popped by after long days at work to take him out too.

The other thing with not being well is that your circle of health-support that you’ve spent years building isn’t there any more; Tom my acupuncture guy at the Anahata, the amazing William at the Treatment Rooms, even my doctor who’s known me for years… all at least 10 hours flight away in Brighton! I feel pretty blessed that months ago when I was creaking with pain, I checked local paper The Georgia Straight to find a massage therapist and discovered aces Nicole Van Damme who pointed me in the direction of top chiropractor Dr Jamie Hennessy. He’s been absolutely amazing – if you follow me on Twitter you’d know I’ve been banging on about how great he is for ages. You can spend months, years trying to find a great practitioner so the relief when I limped into his office with agonising sciatica – and then walked out half an hour later, was overwhelming.

Seriously. He wears this hat, like, all the time.

Seriously. He wears this hat, like, all the time.

This new bit of grimness stems from falling in Quebec all those weeks ago. I’ve damaged a muscle and need to lie around, my leg elevated over my head, icing it every couple of hours for the next few days. I need to get the swelling and inflammation down or I could be in trouble. Jamie’s been brilliant, emailing me back – out of hours – offering advice and reassurance. When I go and see him at Back To Health (here’s the number – I totally recommend him T: 604-742-0011), I appreciate that he takes the time to explain exactly what the issue is, why it’s a problem and what the plan to fix it is. He’s straight with me and although I might occasionally yelp at some of the adjustments that he does, (and wonder why he seems to heh-heh-heh cackle as he does the most evil of them) I always feel better afterwards.

Actually, I feel a bit better just writing this down too. OK, so I don’t have the circle that I had before, but if I think about it, I’m making a new one. And if moving here was a leap of faith then I suppose I need to apply that to living here too – trusting that things will work out and that strangers – and new friends – are kind. I guess that’s part of the expat experience, making that transition where you stop depending quite so much on ‘home’ and and start depending on those strangers who’ve become friends.


12
Mar 13

Carnaval in Québec City

In my head, the Caribou candy canes were not so big. Oh, I’d heard about them; a cute Carnaval attraction, filled to the brim with ‘Caribou’, a kind of souped-up mulled wine, spiked with brandy or vodka or both. Perfect for keeping out the icy chill and keeping up the party spirits, I thought a small stripy pipe o’ booze would be just the ticket, but when I was handed what looked like a walking stick, rather than the compact little twig I’d anticipated, I realised I was out of my depth. I was swimming in French-Canadian waters now but it wasn’t like I hadn’t been warned… “They know how to party in Québec” everyone had said and oh boy, do they ever…

I was mesmerised by the skill of the ice and snow statue carvers

Just… wow.

I’d been so excited about attending the Carnaval. For years I’d heard about the bikini-clad snow bathing, the ice sculptures and I’d dreamed of seeing people genuinely enjoying the cold weather rather than cowering away from it as we do in Britain. And it was everything I’d hoped that it would be; parents towed their red-cheeked, snowsuit-ed infants around in lightweight plastic sleds, couples held hands and ice-skated around the park, children shrieked with laughter as they played on the slides and begged to queue up to meet the star of the show, Bonhomme.

Ah, Bonhomme, the spokes-snowman of the Carnaval, who is idolised and adored in a positively Bieber-like fashion. Unlike most mascots, Bonhomme speaks (here he is meeting the Canadian PM), throughout Carnaval he has a hectic schedule gracing parties and doing his trademark high-kick dance at endless photos calls. I walked past a queue of some 100 people, waiting to get a photograph with him.

Queuing to see Bonhomme

Queuing to see Bonhomme

Even entry to the Carnival is with a cute little Bonhomme ‘effigy’, I tied it to my trusty Canada Goose and walked through the lyrically-named Plains of Abraham, straight into a winter wonderland. I’d been given a ceinture fléchée to wear, a sash with an arrowhead design, part of the traditional outfit of the French-Canadians in the 19th century.  I tied it around my waist, its ends peeking out under my parka. This was my first clue that this wasn’t just a party, the Carnaval had its roots in a more interesting place. Over the speakers, traditional French folk songs played, everywhere, the heavily-accented Québecois French was spoken, make no mistake – when you are in Québec City, you are in the heart of French-speaking French-Canada. You really need to try to speak French. It’s their language and it’s who they are. Québec baffles and fascinates me in equal measure. It feels like another country and its winter celebrations, the wearing of the ceinture fléchée, the pride in its long historical culture and traditions are all part of cherishing that uniquely French side.

Bonhomme's cheeky snow bath party

Bonhomme’s cheeky snow bath party

It was the last weekend of Carnival when I attended, I’d missed the ice canoe racing and snowboarding, but the ice sculptures from around the world still held their shape and Bonhomme’s Ice Palace continued to shine in the sun under the impossibly blue sky. They’ve built an ice palace each winter since the late 1800s, I stroked the glossy walls  of the latest incarnation and thought about how lucky I was to have a warm centrally-heated hotel to go to later and gratefully wriggled my toes in my  thermal socks.

It's official: Bonhomme's beach is open...

It’s official: Bonhomme’s ‘beach’ is open…

The big event of the weekend was the bain de neige, one of our group, a Lonely Planet reporter, Regis, decided to take the plunge – it looked like so much fun! I cursed my sprained ankle… next time. Although my consolation prize was a sleigh ride, something I’d never have done if I wasn’t limping. The bells jingled, the ponies stamped and we were off;  I burrowed under the fur throw as we trotted through the snow, up and around the park. I felt like I was in the most romantic of fairy tales, and yes – it was schmaltzy and cheesy and I absolutely loved it.

Cheesy, yes. Fun, definitely

Cheesy, yes. Fun, definitely

Later that night we watched the Carnaval parade, a whirl of lights and colour, dancing and music. The cold bit brutally at our fingers whenever we de-gloved to take photos. I was amazed to hear French versions of Mary Poppins songs as a float with a flying Poppins wheeled past, accompanied by a dozen dancing sweeps.

Parade time: it got a trifle weird

Parade time: it got a trifle weird

The final treat of the night was dancing at Bonhomme’s ice palace. Of course, dancing with a badly-sprained ankle is a terrible idea… but an irresistible one after a few Caribous. I’m still limping three weeks later. I can’t help thinking dancing in the snow, zipped up in my coat, having a blast in the minus-whatever-it-was temperature, the lights bouncing off the ice, the music so good and loud and the company so much fun probably has something to do with it… Oh, and that damn candy cane. The size of a hockey stick and full to the brim of hot, sweet, deceptively-strong Caribou… We shared it between us, waved the stick in the air to the music and by the time the hot drink was cold I somehow didn’t care so much about the sprain and the pain.

I think this just about sums things up...

I think this just about sums things up…

But I got it; when winter is so cold and harsh, when the weather beats you down every day with its intensity, you have to go out and embrace it. Celebrate being alive and enjoy all the good things that living in that climate can bring, connect with your inner snow-bathing, high-kick dancing Bonhomme.

Bonhomme's Ice Palace

Bonhomme’s Ice Palace

I travelled as a guest of Tourism Quebec, however – as always – my views are 100% my own.

Find out more:

Carnaval de Québec

Quebéc Tourism

I travelled as a guest of Québec Tourism and stayed at the Hilton.


25
Feb 13

Canada Goose: staying warm in freezing cold Canada

Minus 26 degrees. So cold that when you breath your throat hurts. So cold that you suddenly realise that funny feeling in your nose is all the little hairs freezing. So very painfully cold that although the morning light as you crunch through the densely packed snow is breathtaking, and you want to take photo after photo, you can’t because your glove-less hand begin to hurt after about 20 seconds and after a minute it burns and aches until you have to admit defeat.

Stunning light but oh! Too painful to take many photos.

Stunning light but oh! Too painful to take many photos.

I’m from the UK and I’m completely unused to such frozen temperatures. Living in Brighton  doesn’t prepare you for the harsh conditions of the great white north, so when I knew I was going to be travelling to the Yukon and Quebec, I had a small panic – what on earth would I wear?! I had snowpants and thermals but I knew my jacket simply wasn’t up to the job. So I asked a few Vancouverites and they all said the same thing: “Canada Goose”.

I did a bit of research and they do sound like the perfect fit for me on my quest to keep everything I do as Canadian as possible. I especially liked this quote from their web site about keeping their production in Canada: “Cold weather is part of our national identity… We’re proud to have Canadians rely on us for protection in unspeakably cold conditions. We stay in Canada because that’s who we are.” I just love the idea that yes, to be Canadian is to live, work and play in really cold weather… I’ve come around to the idea living in basically sub-aqua conditions in ultra-rainy Vancouver, that if I stay at home and wait for good weather I’ll never leave the house! So I put waterproofs on and go and have fun.

It's a SERIOUS coat

It’s a SERIOUS coat

I contacted Canada Goose and explained that I wanted to do a spot of road-testing and they very kindly sent me a parka. When it arrived I realised that this was a SERIOUS coat. Canada Goose have a 5-point ‘Thermal Experience Index’ so you can work out if you need a light jacket or something for more hardcore arctic activities. My ‘Dawson‘ parka is in the ‘extreme’ category, good to -30 “field-tested for the coldest places on earth.” There is something awfully scary and exciting at the same time reading that. I slipped it on in my toasty-warm apartment, struggled with the zip (it took a few weeks to loosen up) and then looked at myself in the mirror. I liked it. I looked ready for all kinds of arctic action!

As it’s a SERIOUS coat, it’s packed with gizmos, I adore the genius addition of shoulder straps in the lining, so I can carry the coat on my back like a rucksack when I’m indoors so I don’t overheat and easily slip it on before I go outside. I got asked twice about this in the airport by curious women – it’s a really cool idea. As is the fleece in the chin guard, which if you snuggle, goes right up to your nose. I suspect I may still be finding pockets in this next year…

This guy is about to drive 1000 miles with huskies across the arctic. He's wearing Canada Goose. Case closed.

This guy is about to drive 1000 miles with huskies across the arctic. He’s wearing Canada Goose. Case closed.

So – how did it cope? Well, when I arrived in the Yukon for the 1000-mile Yukon Quest race, I wasn’t the only one Goosed-up and I think that tells you everything you need to know. All the locals had Canada Goose jackets and the tour companies hire out scarlet jackets to visitors. My eyelashes may have iced up and my fingers felt like they’d snap, but the rest of me was cosy. I could play out in the snow all day long – even lying in it for two hours taking photos – and not feel cold. I’ve learned that it’s not about bad weather, it’s about having the right clothes – and for winter in Canada that means one thing: Canada Goose.

Loving the Goose...

Loving the Goose…


22
Feb 13

Rainy days and Vitamin D: winter in Vancouver

Yesterday I felt like winter might almost be over. I saw my first crocus; a tiny pop of purple just around the corner from my apartment on English Bay. When I took Freddie out for his late-night walk I spotted daffodils, tightly wrapped in their buds, waiting for that warmer breath of spring air to tempt them to show off their nodding butter-yellow heads.

Purple shoots of spring

Purple shoots of spring

I went home with a smile on my face. I’d made it. Got through my first west coast winter, which had been so much harder than I’d imaged it could have been – and it was mostly all my own fault.

This was all I saw for most of January. Ouch.

This was all I saw for most of January. Ouch.

Everyone told me that the rain and grey skies would be hard. “Take Vitamin D” urged locals, but I smiled to myself and thought well, maybe they needed supplements, but me, with my well-balanced diet? Surely not. And then came the endless days of non-stop torrential rain, serious rain – we think we have it bad in the UK, but London has around half the annual rainfall of Vancouver. HALF! And then there’s the weeks of the sun never really making an appearance thanks to late rising around 830am and early setting around 430pm and the low lying cloud covering any rays.

I felt tired all the time. Grumpy. Peevish. And then came the day when I didn’t want to get out of bed at all. I just lay there, scowling at the gloom and feeling utterly hopeless. I didn’t want to get up. What was the point? What was the point in anything?

My hero

My hero

Something about this dismal state of affairs rang a bell, I could remember reading up something about the symptoms of D3 deficiency. The exhaustion, the depression, yes – maybe this was a chemical imbalance, not me losing faith in life. I dragged myself out of bed to the nearest London Drugs (not being sarcastic – that is the name of a chain of Canadian chemists!) and bought a pack of liquid D3 and a multi-vitamin. Took a shot of both and went back to bed.

Ok, so there was less blood and I don't have that fierce bob but you know what I mean...

Ok, so there was less blood and I don’t have that fierce bob but you know what I mean…

Around six hours later something rather amazing happened. I felt like that scene in Pulp Fiction where Uma gets a shot of adrenaline to her heart. My eyes flew open, I felt flooded with energy, I felt happy and vital and alive again. And that is how it’s been ever since. I take my vits three times a week and even though Vancouver tricked me with it’s whole ‘oh look, it’s spring‘ thing yesterday (it’s beyond revolting again today), I feel fine. And more than that, I feel like I got through a rite of passage. Spring is on its way, the flowers are making their way through the cold hard earth and now, like all good Vancouverites, I know that I need regular shots of D3 to get my head back above ground too.

Yeah. So it turns out it's *not* spring after all...

Yeah. So it turns out it’s *not* spring after all…


15
Jan 13

Dim lights, rainy city

People in the UK keep asking me whether it’s cold out here in Vancouver. ‘Is it snowy?’ they say. ‘Are you freezing?’ And really it isn’t and no, I’m not. Vancouver has its own nicely protected micro-climate thanks to the mountains and ocean. It’s kind of like Brighton, my old home, in that respect, so it’s never really too cold and never really gets too hot either. The one thing that is making winter tough is the rain.

Somewhere behind all that are snow-capped mountains.

Somewhere behind all that are snow-capped mountains.

Vancouver has more rain than, ooh, almost anywhere. On average, the city gets 1474mm of rain each year, compared to Brighton’s 801mm. That is wet. And cloudy. Oh, so very cloudy. So for days and days at a time I can’t see my beautiful view. The mountains are hidden. We’re so far north that on overcast days we never seem to get properly light either. People here recommend that I take Vitamin D. I find myself eyeing up my dog’s basket and think longingly of just curling up in the cushions and blankets and hibernating till springtime.

Perfectly pink sea and snow.

Perfectly pink sea and snow.

And then… you wake up one morning and look! It’s a beautiful blazing blue sky day, ushered in by heavenly pink early morning light. We’ve had a few days of frosty blue sky and that’ll hold me for a week, but now it’s back to the clouds again I guess it’s like the chorus of the song says, “After the rain comes sun, after the sun comes rain – again... ”

Any suggestions or hints for getting through the RAIN, RAIN, RAIN – let me know ;)

Just keep looking for the blue skies...

Just keep looking for the blue skies…

Keep exploring Canada

 

 

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