Things to do


31
Mar 14

PEI: My Island Pictures

PEI1

There are some trips that you make which seem a little magical and dream-like even at the time. Of course; memory softens the edges; that annoying wait for the car that one afternoon or the rainy morning which made you pout, they all melt away with time. But there was something special about Prince Edward Island right from the start.
PEI3
The sharp bright colours of the island made you feel as though you’d stepped into a child’s drawing; the sky so blue, the grass and trees so green and this vivid, almost-glowing red soil and red sand. The coastline dotted about with reminders from the past and standard bearers for the future; lighthouses painted with quaint deckchair-stripes next to bright white bands of wind turbines stretching their arms as they scraped the sky.

PEI4We took a sightseeing trip in a small plane, rising just high enough to make the illusion of it all being a child’s colouring book seem real. We saw the cold, clear waters where some of the world’s best lobsters, mussels and oysters thrive. That iron oxide-rich soil which grows such sweet flavoursome potatoes, the lush green grass which feeds some of the most-prized cattle in North America.

PEI6Over the next week I’d eat and drink so many delicious things – all from just a few miles away from where I was staying in its historic capital Charlottetown. I’d meet some of the warmest and most hospitable people I’ve encountered anywhere in the world; a friendly acceptance and a delight in sharing and showing the best that they had, that felt as gracious as something from a more sepia-tinted age.

almorrisonOne afternoon I met an elderly man in a cafe and fell into conversation with him. He insisted on giving me a copy of a book, ‘My Island Pictures’ a History of Prince Edward Island by folk artist, A.L. Morrison. The pictures have that child-like dreamy quality that the island conjured up for me. I wish I knew if it had been the artist who gave it to me; I was in a rush but adopting island ways, I made time to stop and talk. But I put the book in my bag as I left and didn’t look at it until I got back home to Vancouver; now I can’t match the hazy memory of the lovely old man with the author shot on the book. Flipping through its pages now, it’s all as I remember it, almost like he drew it for me just as I remember it. He must have been the author –  who else would carry around spare copies of their book but an author? And where else would such a thing happen but PEI?

I travelled as a guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission and Tourism PEI but as ever, all my words are 100% my own.

More information:

Tourism Prince Edward Island

Air tour in a Cessna 172 Skyhawk thanks to FD Airtours

 

 


21
Mar 14

Challenge #4: Go to Whistler and Zipline Down a Mountain at Night

I’m trying to be brave and try new things—truly I am. But as I hang in my harness, my teeth chattering in the sub-zero cold, swinging in a cradle as helpless as a baby, I began to think, ‘hey – what was so wrong with the old ways?’. It’s pitch black ahead of me on the mountain, just a small twinkling light, god knows how far away – that’s where I’m heading on this insane zipline and god help me, if they’re not about to release the brakes

Ready to swing off into the dark void. Squint and you'll see the lights below.

Ready to swing off into the dark void. Squint and you’ll see the lights below.

A curse on this whole ‘try something Canadian and new’  plan. I’ve given ziplining at night a whirl and decided that, nope, it is absolutely not for me. Was it the screaming through the darkness god knows how high up – just attached by a wire – that made me turn my stomach? Or perhaps it was the fatal-crash feeling every time I ‘zipped’ into the end of each line? Or maybe it was the weird sensation of being horribly scared as I flew in darkness across the mountain and yet at the same time - feeling weirdly bored because I couldn’t see anything? Whatever, as fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly, this girl has gotta never do this again. And yet… I could see that if you liked it (and I was with a crew who clearly adored it) then this would be all kinds of fun.

Making tracks up the mountain

Making tracks up the mountain

It all started rather nicely with a heated snowcat ride up Rainbow Mountain. I loved this! The snow was deep, it felt like the most delicious sort of rufty-tufty Canadian fun inside the ‘Cat; blankets-over-the-knees and the rumble of the engine as we climbed at a thrilling angle up, up the mountain. The light was on in the cabin and my fellow zippers-to-be were excited. I peered out into the night: nothing. Sadly the fun bit was over too soon – we got dropped at a yurt half-way up the isolated mountain for dinner.

Normally I’d have been dancing with excitement over this; it had been catered by the Bearfoot Bistro – one of my favourite Whistler restaurants – but as I sat down and sipped on water (never have I wanted a glass of wine more) and watched the flames dance in the log fire, I realised I was genuinely nervous about what lay ahead. I pushed my perfect short rib around the plate, forcing down a few mouthfuls of whipped buttery mash and savoury gravy before giving up. Bad enough to scream, but how much worse if I threw up later?

See - how perfect and lovely is this adorable yurt?

See – how perfect and lovely is this adorable yurt?

When you dread what lies ahead, there comes a point when you don’t want to delay – you just want it to be over. Make the dinner, end, let’s just get this done, I wished to the gods of bad decisions and perilous ideas. Who knows – I was not letting the tiny flame of optimism burn out at this point – maybe I would love this. But every minute we spent in that gorgeous little wooden yurt made me doubt it more and more. For those familiar with the drill, you know what lies ahead – you carry your own kit from line to line over your shoulder. I wasn’t expecting this and as I slid around on the narrow trail in the half-light on the ice and snow, I wondered if I wasn’t about to find a far, far faster way down.

The two staff with us on the mountain with us were fantastic – friendly, helpful, fun and – kind – when it was clear that I was struggling to stay upright one of them shouldered my load and I was never made to feel like I was making a fuss. One of the group after one line decided that was enough; and they were kind to her too. Idiot that I am, I decided to stick with it. Maybe I’d grow to love it? (I didn’t.)

Not everyone hated this. OK - so ONLY I hated this...

Not everyone hated this. OK – so ONLY I hated this…

There were only 4 ziplines but it felt like oh, so much more; one was the longest in Canada, 600 feet above the ground and over a kilometer long. The part of me that wasn’t hating it all, was wondering what it would be like in the daytime? Maybe if I had all that stunning scenery to distract me from me grinding terror, I’d have had more fun?

It was very cool hanging out in the trees.

It was very cool hanging out in the trees.

Not so my companions, who whooped their way through the evening. They flew down the mountain, their helmet lights like little halos, and whooped like bad angels as they went. Apologies for this most anaemic of phrases but really: if you like this kind of thing, you’d love this. It’s well organised, if you could stomach the food it was delicious, the yurt and snowcat were a lot of fun and yes, if hurtling through the night is your bag then have at it.
I plan to keep my feet on the ground for now.

God bless them for having me – I was a guest of Superfly – who were so nice to me even though I clearly loathed it.

Also thank you to my chateau home away from home, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler who gave me somewhere beautiful and serene to rest my very achey bones after all this crazy. Oh, how I wished I’d have been able to stow away one of their special mustard-spiked cocktails with me on the line – maybe that would have helped?

As ever – my words though are 100% my own.


17
Feb 14

Welcome to the world’s eagle capital

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I’d never imagined myself to be a birdwatching enthusiast before but like so many other things Canada has changed me completely. From my new-found love of leaf-peeping and attempts to develop ice skating skills to my enthusiastic embrace of drinking clamato juice cocktailsthere is apparently no limit to what I won’t adore about Canada. So, now I’m a ‘twitcher’ – why else would I be floating down a river on a bluebird sky day in early February, gazing with delight into the leaf-less trees? My new rationale being that if the world bald eagle capital is just 45 minutes drive away, well – you hop into a car, right?

Jake from Sunwolf gets our craft ready

Jake from Sunwolf gets our craft ready

A little explanation: half-way between Whistler and Vancouver lies Squamish, known as the Outdoor Adventure Capital of North America. You can hike, mountain bike, kayak, whitewater raft – everything. Ten minutes drive from Squamish is Brackendale, and as well as being a huge draw for enthusiastic types in North Face-branded clothing, it’s also where you’ll find the world’s greatest concentration of bald eagles, if you visit between November-February.

I’d visited Sunwolf late last year en route to Whistler and eaten a spectacular breakfast at Fergie’s cafe there. As well as dishing up quality rib-sticker brekkies, Sunwolf’s British owners Jake and Jess also have cosy cabins to rent along the Cheakamus River and host guided whitewater rafting trips and eagle float adventures.

Let the Eagle-Spotting begin

Let the Eagle-Spotting begin

It was a perfect day for a float along the river; after what seemed like endless grey skies and non-stop rain, the soft warm touch of sunshine on skin felt like a long-forgotten magic. And the sun was blazing down that morning. But it was cold on the river, so we suited up in the Sunwolf lounge in waist-high waterproof trousers and bundled up in scarves, mittens and hats.

Hopping into the dinghy without A) falling in or B) embarrassing myself, was surprisingly easy – my kind of outdoor adventure – all I needed to do now was sit back, listen to the soft splash of paddles on water and watch for eagles as Jake told us stories of the river and the Chum salmon which brings the eagles here in their droves. It’s a circle-of-life thing;  beautiful in its complexity and simplicity. Each year the salmon come to spawn in the pristine glacial-fed waters of the Squamish and Cheakamus rivers where they – in turn – were spawned.

It would have been hard to pick a more perfect day

It would have been hard to pick a more perfect day

It’s incredible that these fish who spend their lives out in the ocean return ‘home’ to start new lives – and it’s also where they come to end their life too. After spawning, the salmon die and in turn become a necessary life-giving food to another species. In some parts of the world bears feast on the salmon, but here it’s the eagles who thrive and survive. For a few months, the river is becomes an all-you-can-eat sashimi buffet and the eagles the stretchy pants-wearing regulars.

Waters so pristine you could clearly see the rotting salmon aka eagle-dinner

Waters so pristine you could clearly see the eagle’s dinner

I lost count of the number of eagles that we saw; mostly perched, presumably digesting huge meals, in the branches. Whenever one took flight the awe of seeing their impossibly wide wing span hit me every time. I may not be a fully fledged bird-spotting enthusiast but damn, I’m enthusiastic whenever I see a beautiful wild creature – especially in such jaw-clanging surroundings. Only the prospect of another meal at Fergie’s could cheer me after our trip was over. I really loved it: so peaceful, so much beauty and so many new things to learn along the way.

I travelled as a guest of Sunwolf but as ever my words are 100% my own.  

Also, thank you to BC Ford who loaned me a Ford Focus Titanium for my road trip. I’ve never driven a car that could actually park itself before! Genuinely amazing feature. 

More Info:

Sunwolf - Rafting, Cabins, Whitewater rafting and Eagle river floats – plus – Fergie’s delicious cafe!


10
Feb 14

Challenge #3: Skate the Rideau Canal

I want to give up; my shins are throbbing, my eyes smart from the snow storm, my feet are aching and my back, unused to the weight of the heavy snow boots that I’m carrying, really hurts. All I want to do is lie down on the ice and stretch out. And we’re only at 3 km. Not even half way. I’m never going to make it and I feel crushed by failure. What had I been thinking when I decided I’d skate the length of the Rideau Canal?

Getting patriotic on the canal

Getting patriotic on the canal

It all began a few years ago when I heard about Ottawa’s Winterlude festival; it sounded so magical, Canadians skating on a beautiful frozen canal, drinking hot chocolate under the blazing blue skies and munching on maple syrup-drenched ‘beavertail’ pastries. It’s the world’s longest skating rink and I wanted to skate it; to whizz gracefully on silver blades, skimming under bridges and around corners. There was, of course, just the one problem: I couldn’t skate.

A chance came to visit during the festival so I put Operation Silver Blades into action: I took lessons, I bought skates and 5 weeks later, boarded the plane to Ottawa feeling confident. But, of course, a canal is not like a freshly smoothed-over ice rink. There are no handrails, no way to steady yourself before you launch onto that bumpy ice. There are cracks and there are parents pulling children in sleds. And just to add an extra challenge – there was also a snow storm – in just a few hours 15cm of snow would fall on Ottawa that day – all things I’d never experienced at the rink. And then there was me and my failing nerve; I’m ashamed to say I froze. I was overwhelmed and scared I’d fall and really hurt myself. So for what seemed like an hour, I just stood there – willing myself to just, skate, dammit! Push one foot to the side, glide, other foot down, glide, push… like I’d done for hours around and around the Denman Street rink in Vancouver.

It was hard just getting ON to the canal…

It was hard just getting ON to the canal…

Bambi-like, my legs wobbled underneath me as I eventually pushed off. I managed maybe a minute – and then a couple walked in front of me, I panicked and crashed to the ground, badly bruising my knees. I lay on the ice and felt defeated before I’d even begun. Getting up was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. If I’d been alone I’d have laid there and cried before crawling off to a bar. But I wasn’t -  and the humiliation of giving up was greater than the shame of failing so I got up. Put one skate in front of another and painfully made it to the first bridge. Just 15 more stops to go. Oh boy.

It was curvier than I imagined, this canal, and wider too and oh, there were so many more people than I’d thought. Young children zoomed past, fell, sprawled on the ice and then jumped up and sped off again. I saw older couples skating hand in hand, teenagers madly texted as they glided by. There was a carnival-like atmosphere and a definite pattern to the ‘traffic’ of the skateway. At the points of entry the ice was scuffed up, I’d wobble and slow down, awed by the challenge of staying upright and avoiding the mobs of people, strollers and sleds all converging at once. Things would even out after a few minutes, I’d have longer sessions with fewer people around, my confidence would rise and I’d whisper to myself, ‘you’re doing it!’. I loved those moments of getting into the perfect rhythm, my skates smooth on the ice, gliding along just as I’d pictured it.

You know it's snowing too much when you turn around and see this following you.

You know it’s snowing too much when you turn around and see this following you.

But it was hard and my muscles begged me to reconsider. I spent most of my time on the ice in a silent debate with myself over whether it was enough to have tried and failed or whether failure was simply not acceptable. There was pain written into the DNA of this canal; it was built in 1832 by immigrant Irish and French-Canadian workers as a way for British ships to avoid possible American attacks along a vulnerable stretch of the St Lawrence river. The work was brutal and many died in its construction. My creaky muscles and frozen fear were just one tiny snowflake in a blizzard in comparision.

Just after 3km I hit a mental wall; I felt used up and spat out with nothing left to give. Through the blizzard it was hard to see but ahead lay a rest spot. I made for the banners fluttering in the distance and followed the sounds of drumming and African singing. Queues of happy born-to-do-this locals cruised along with a cup in one hand and a pastry in the other. I skated to a bench and collapsed. I closed my eyes and listened to the drummers and breathed slowly; the air smelt of bonfires, braziers burned with dancing flames in the snowfall and there was a sweet scent of syrup from the boiling maple taffy that was setting on the snow at a nearby stall. I took my mittens off and pushed my hair back only to discover that it had frozen solid into little dreadlock-like icicles.

Did it!

Did it!

Boosted by a cup of hot, sweet apple cider, 4km came and went. Things were harder now; there were no more beavertail stands, no more hot cider and poutine stalls – this was serious skating – and I didn’t know if I could do it. The next stop was at 5km and now I admitted it; I knew now that the full 7.8km was not going to happen. I hurt too much. I was beaten. I’m told that making it to the Bronson Bridge by Dows Lake was pretty much considered ‘the end’ by locals and I have no idea if I was told that by someone trying to be kind but hell, I figured I’d take it.

It was hard not to cry when I rounded that final bend, a blend of exhaustion and driving snow in my eyes. My feet ached and face  was scarlet but I had done that most Canadian of things – skated in the snow on ice. Better than that –  soon I’d be taking those skates off and chugging hot chocolate. Nothing will ever taste so sweet again.

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That was yesterday…

It’s only as I leave after a hectic 48 hours batting around the city that I realise that maybe the badge of failure that I thought I had isn’t mine after all. We drive along the canal and I tell my taxi driver about what I did, and that I feel I maybe let myself down. And we keep driving and it’s so much further than I thought – as we approach the 3km mark, where I thought I’d have to give up, I feel a surge of pride: I didn’t stop. I kept going. Finally we arrive at Bronson and he slows down and tells me that it’s far. That I did well. That I’ve inspired him to try with his daughter next weekend. I sit back in the car and feel as warm and happy as when I took that first welcome sip of chocolate. I did it.

At the airport, my driver stood at the kerb and called me back, “Hey! Well done!” And then he began to clap. “Ottawa salutes you! You did well.” And this time, I believe it. I skated the Rideau canal – maybe not like I’d imagined but I did it all the same. Next time, I’ll make the full distance – or maybe I won’t – the only certain thing is that I’m going to keep on falling – all I need to do is keep on getting up.

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I travelled as a guest of Ottawa Tourism – but as ever – my words are 100% my own.

Info:

Ottawa Tourism

Rideau Canal Skate way


2
Jan 14

2014: the Year of New Experiences #1 Polar Bear Swim in Vancouver

It’s easy to make new year resolutions – and so much easier to break them, so this year I’ve decided to skip the usual list and go with just one resolution that should be easy to keep: Do More New Things. I want to dive into brand-new Canadian experiences every month this year and I decided to kick off by joining the Polar Bear Club on Vancouver’s English Bay for an icy January 1st dip.

Walking down to English Bay with my friend Felice, who I’d shamelessly whined at until she came too, I can’t pretend my heart wasn’t hammering – what if it was too cold? What if I wanted to back out? But once we arrived excitement took over; this was the 94th year of the dip and the biggest in its history with some 2,500 people jumping in. Jostling for space amongst the guys dressed as disgraced Toronto mayor, Rob Ford, and a guy dressed as a rasher of bacon, I decided to just try and enjoy it. We jumped the wooden fence to the beach and stripped off to our swimming costumes. The sand was wet and cold, within a few minutes my feet were numb. And then it began -there was no formal bell or whistle, no ‘ready, steady, go!’ but as we saw everyone race forward we grabbed hands and made for the waves.

polarbear swim

I didn’t feel the water at first, not until it hit mid-thigh, I ducked, shoulders-down and then it hit me – I gasped at the icy cold; I genuinely felt like I was having a heart attack. For a few seconds I couldn’t breath – the water was shockingly, painfully cold, I jumped back up, mouthing frantically then shrieked! Then the adrenaline flooded through me, man!  This was great, I raced back out of the water and joined my friends – all of us wild-eyed and beaming – we’d done it!

We did it!

We did it!

I was in the water for maybe 30 seconds at the most but it’s half a minute I’ll always remember and it feels like it was 30 crucial seconds that will shape the rest of the year. We raced back to my apartment building and hopped in the hot tub to thaw out. Over the next half hour, more frozen polar bear veterans joined us; I loved the feeling of camaraderie, of a moment of craziness shared and the start of something adventurous beginning.

Here’s a great video from Tristan Harvey which shows what happened:

Here’s to a new year of Canadian experiences and fantastic first times…


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


16
Aug 13

Squamish Fest 2013: sunshine, queues and a visit from the fun police…

Gorgeous location

Gorgeous location

They do music festivals differently here in beautiful British Columbia; surrounded by breathtaking mountains with blazing blue skies overhead. Half-way between Vancouver and Whistler, I’ve only ever driven through Squamish but now I’ve seen how beautiful it is, I think I may be making it a destination rather than a drive-through.

Ah. Off putting queues

Ah. Off putting queues

It was a line-up that batted well above its boutique festival status with big names like Macklemore & Lewis, Vampire Weekend and QOTSA headlining. One major difference between European festivals and BC ones seems to be the drinks licensing, unusually, if you wanted an alcoholic drink you had to have it in a fenced-off area. So – a queue to get into the beer area, then a queue to load up the smart-chip wristband as it was a cashless bar system and then – yup – another queue to buy the drink. I may be British but no one likes to queue that much! And I have to say that charging $2.50 each time you charge your wristband is not a ‘nominal amount’. It felt unfair and I’d really encourage the organisers to re-think this next year.

Enjoying Macklemore & Lewis from behind the beer garden fence

Enjoying Macklemore & Lewis from behind the beer garden fence

Price concerns aside, this was a magical festival: as the sun set over the mountains, watching Jurassic 5 go through their paces through a haze of smoke I loved the goofy good-natured atmosphere. There was a stylish Topshop area where you could stop by and get your hair and make-up made festival-fabulous, a definite Glastonbury-esque dress-up vibe with costumed stilt walkers and a glitzy gaggle of burlesque lawnmowers.

Burlesque lawn mowers

Burlesque lawn mowers

Plenty of kids had come dressed in Macklemore-esque thrift shop-style fake fur coats: I met a trio of good time-busting ‘Fun Police’ and best of all, had a huge hug from a guy dressed as a bear. You don’t get that in England! The festival next year is set to be the biggest in the Pacific North West with a 35,000 per day capacity. Keep an eye on their site for line-up announcements.

They want to take down your particulars

They want to take down your particulars


8
Aug 13

The best view in town: celebrating fabulous fireworks on English Bay

The sky over English Bay explodes with colour

The sky over English Bay explodes with colour

Every summer something kind of marvellous happens in Vancouver – not once, not twice – but three times: the annual Honda Celebration of Light competiton sets the sky over the English Bay ablaze with 25-minute soundtracked performances of fireworks from three competing nations. When I moved to my apartment here in December, I was told that I had a great view for the fireworks; they were not joking, ten days before the competition began, a barge appeared on the bay directly outside my balcony!

The United Kingdom kicked off on July 27 with a blistering James Bond-themed extravaganza that took in all the hits from Goldfinger to Skyfall, Canada went for their homegirl, Celine Dion belting out ‘What A Wonderful World’ on July 31 and Thailand closed on August 3 with a classical Thai music. I’m a sucker for a good firework display at the best of times, but to have three in the space of just over a week was extraordinary.

Great stuff from Great Britain (biased, me?!)

Great stuff from Great Britain (biased, me?!)

An estimated 1.2 million spectators attended the three-day event and – of course, because it’s Vancouver and they just do this stuff wonderfully – you couldn’t see a trace of them the morning after. The judges went with the loudest of the three displays – Canada  – who are this year’s winners.

Winter has its many attractions here with the North Shore mountains just half an hour away and Whistler close by, but oh – summer in this city is a winner too. Dates for the 2014 event will be announced by the end of September. You couldn’t pick a better time to visit than to watch these shows. Live music, a dazzling display by the Red Bull air show and fabulous atmosphere – see you next summer.

Kind of amazing to see how many boats gathered to watch it all

Kind of amazing to see how many boats gathered to watch it all


1
Aug 13

Adventures on Vancouver’s North Shore: Kayaking at Deep Cove

Get ready to take the plunge

Get ready to take the plunge

I’m not a sporty person. I fall too much. Slip over. Lose my balance and hurt myself. I’m a natural-born loser when it comes to competing with Vancouverites who seem to be always racing up mountains on the thigh-burning Grouse Grind, gracefully paddleboarding across the silky waters of English Bay or merrily gliding along on rollerblades. I may as well book myself a nice bed in hospital before even starting out on any of those. But it seems like I may have found a sport that even I can’t screw up: kayaking.

No one told me that it was possible to do exercise and enjoy a doughnut at the same time, yet that was precisely what I did half-way through my happy paddle along Indian Arm at Deep Cove. I thoughtfully bit into my glazed doughnut, paddle balanced across my kayak, and beamed with delight at the mountains soaring up before me, the hills green with dense woodland and the sea an endless midnight blue bobbing all around me.

The perfect view

The perfect view

I was anxious before I started. If anyone was going to wind up soaking wet, clinging to the kayak and embarrassed it was almost certainly going to be me, but I was told that no, it was ‘almost impossible’ to fall out of this kind of kayak (once I’d got over my initial fear I tried wriggling about to see just how true that was and I felt perfectly safe).

Getting from the kayak to the water was a concern but happily all I had to do was get comfy and settle myself inside it on the little beach by the water. I would be pushed into the water rather than having to try and shuffle down myself. The only ‘technical’ information was about the rudder which is controlled by your feet. You adjust little straps to bring the peddle close enough and then press right to turn right and left for left. Easy!

Look! Doing sport! (Doughnut out of sight).

Look! Doing sport! (Doughnut out of sight).

There’s a tremendous sense of accomplishment with kayaking, you can feel like you’ve got the hang of things incredibly fast. Within ten minutes I’d worked out that I could paddle in a circle, stop, go backwards – I felt like this was something that I could easily do again. And wow – what a place to do it.  I’d taken the ferry from the heart of Vancouver across to the North Shore – just a few minutes – but I was deep in dazzling nature after a brief car ride. Deep Cove is gorgeous: just beautiful. We’d stopped in at Honey’s to get doughnuts on the way to the kayak hire shop, later we’d enjoy a post-paddle feast of perfectly-crisp calamari and a garlicy humous with summery Aperol Spritzes at the Arms Reach Bistro. I may have been less than an hour away from the bustle of Vancouver but I felt I was on holiday. Feels like fun’s always a sure thing on the North Shore.

Reward for a good day kayaking.

Reward for a good day kayaking.

I paddled along as a guest of Vancouver’s North Shore tourism – but as ever – views are 100% my own. You should do this: it’s fun! 

Find out more:

Vancouver’s North Shore Tourism  

Deep Cove Canoe and Kayak


17
Jul 13

Weekend in Whistler: Summer fun at the Bearfoot Bistro

Six bloody Caesars - only one can win

Six bloody Caesars – only one can win

There’s something about Whistler that reminds me of my home town Brighton; oh, not in appearance, it couldn’t be different. Pristine and shiny, thoroughly modern Whistler is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, its inhabitants all seem to be like the girl or boy from Ipanema, all tall and tan and young and lovely. Whereas my beloved Brighton, in the words of Keith Waterhouse, “… looks as though it is a town helping the police with their enquiries.” But there is something in that ‘determined to have a good time even though it’s clearly hours past your bed time’ Brighton spirit that burns in Whistler too.

I recognised it the second I clapped eyes on the Bearfoot Bistro’s Chief Bad Decision Enabler, Andre Saint-Jacques, so no surprise at all that some of the best fun to be had in BC is always at his restaurant. The Bearfoot World Oyster Invitational and Bloody Caesar Battle took place this Sunday. A charity fund raiser for Playground Builders, an excellent Canadian charity who build playgrounds in areas of the world affected by wars. By the end of the afternoon enough money had been raised to construct three playgrounds in Afghanistan. So I’m not going to feel a jot of guilt about anything that happens here.

Judges Chefs Robert Clark and Pino Posteraro deliberate

Judges Chefs Robert Clark and Pino Posteraro get serious

Two contests were in play – six mixologists battling it out for the honour of the best Bloody Caesar (it’s a much-beloved Canadian drink – essentially a Bloody Mary with clam juice added) as well as the fastest oyster shucker contest. I couldn’t wait to see the shuckers in action, 13 competed from as far afield as Sweden, Denmark and Japan. Before the doors opened the judges got stuck into the cocktails, everyone else got to sample the six different kinds from booths set up around the restaurant and downstairs in its famous champagne cellar – which is usually where you’ll find M. Saint Jaques merrily sabering a champagne bottle or two. Along with the caesars, wine flowed freely and we were kept from slumping to the ground by a stream of bite-sized goodies from Chef Melissa Craig’s kitchen.

Delicious vanilla nitro ices

Delicious vanilla nitro ices

By the time the shucking contest came around it’s fair to say that everyone was feeling at their most Whistler-ish and the cheers were deafening. The rules are strict in these contests and closely adhered to. Each shucker is presented with a tray of three varieties of oyster, they have to shuck 30 and present them “upright, free from shell and blood in a whole top shell.” They are scored not only on time but also the appearance, presence of shell, grit and the cut of the meat. I was fascinated: each shucker had such a different technique, from the sorting at the start – some piled them like legos, others lined them up neatly – some wore gloves, others went in bare-handed (one was bare-footed) and others wound tape around their fingers. Each shucker has a timer and each heat must begin with the shuckers hands in the air above their oysters and the one to finish first must raise their hands again.

Adored Noriko, she seemed to be having such a great time

Adored Noriko, she seemed to be having such a great time

The first heat was over in a matter of minutes. It was shockingly fast. They tore through those shells like hot knives through butter; it was fantastic to watch. There were four heats in all and then a final round. My two favourites, Noriko Kamashima from Japan who shucked in a gloriously calm fashion with a beatific smille on her face and the looks-a-bit-like-Eric-off-True-Blood Dane, Simon Toensager didn’t make it, so I had to pick a new favourite from the finalists. I went with the only shucker to have cleaned the shells from his station to save the Bearfoot staff the trouble, the beaming bearded Eamon Clark from Rodney’s Oyster House in Toronto who was the 2011 champion.

Eamon Clark: this is what winning looks like

Eamon Clark: this is what winning looks like

Turns out I can pick a winner. Eamon finished fastest and also – after a l-o-n-g deliberation by the judges – came out top on points. He scored a $5000 prize, a huge trophy that I wouldn’t have liked to try and take back on the plane and a whole year of bragging rights. I didn’t do so well guessing the best caesar. I liked Justin Taylor’s from Yew at the Four Seasons in Vancouver best, but local lad Scot Curry from the Alta Bistro scooped the $5000 instead. Full of nitro vanilla ice cream, awash with caesars and feeling like a girl who should go lie down somewhere, I sat on the stairs outside and waited for the Pacific Coach to pick me up. I’d stare out of the window on the two-hour trip back to Vancouver at the dazzling sea and mountain scenery on the lyrically-named ‘Sea to Sky’ highway, I might have been far from Brighton but oh – that town is starting to feel like home.

You can see why it's called the Sea to Sky highway

You can see why it’s called the Sea to Sky highway

I travelled as a guest of the Bearfoot Bistro  - thanks for that! Also thanks to Pacific Coach for the return ticket. As ever – my opinions are 100% my own.

More info:

Pacific Coach Lines

Whistler Hilton Resort

The Bearfoot Bistro 

Tourism Whistler

 

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