Things to do


15
Jun 13

New life in Stanley Park

The name's Gosling... Ryan Gosling.

The name’s Gosling… Ryan Gosling.

I’ve just come back to Canada after eight days away in the USA, visiting Arizona and Nevada. I woke this morning to misty grey skies and was never so glad to slip into a jumper. Turns out that sweltering, pavement-melting 42 degree heat and I do not get on at all! Just before I left I spent the afternoon cooing at the new life in Vancouver’s famous Stanley park.

Mama Duck helping out with feeding the ducklings

Mama Duck helping out with feeding the ducklings

Adorable fluffy goslings, guarded by hissing over-protective beak-waving Canada Geese, paddling little ducklings, all speckled and wobble-legged; the park is bursting with baby bird-life and I bet that if I pop along to the lyrically-named Lost Lagoon, the swans will have hatched out their cygnets by now too.

Parents in Full Hiss mode

Parents in ‘Full Hiss’ mode

After gleefully photographing my way around the park, I spent ages walking through the riot of flowers that burst from every bush and tree. I’ve said it before: all that rain seems to be worth it if we get this joyful celebration of blossoms as reward.

Is it me or is that little one just asking to be picked up and petted?

Is it me or is that little one just asking to be picked up and petted?

Cycling the seawall that wraps around the park or exploring its leafy centre is apparently the number one tourist attraction here in Vancouver. I can totally believe it; bigger than Central Park, yet feeling intimate with endless spots to enjoy a romantic picnic or a family day out, ringed with sandy beaches and blessed with excellent restaurants and home to my beloved Aquarium – there’s something for every budget –  you can go to Stanley Park without a penny in your pocket and have a great day out or plan an action-packed day of treats. I’m writing this as I watch the pretty seaplanes fly over the park to land with barely a splash at nearby Coal Harbour; the trees are gleaming glossy-green in the sunshine (it’s Vancouver – four seasons of weather in one day!) and although I know the park will be packed with visitors, I can’t see a soul. I’ll check on the swans at the weekend and let you know if there’s any cygnet news…

The park is alive with blossoms

The park is alive with blossoms


4
Jun 13

New Chinatown Night Market A Hit

I love the feeling of excitement at the night markets here in Canada. Last year when I first arrived I managed to catch one of the last nights of the huge Richmond Night Marketa smoky maze of exotic food, Kigurumi animal onesies and lashings of Hello Kitty phone covers. This weekend I went down to the official opening of the Vancouver Chinatown night market – a smaller but no less exciting night out.

Crowds at the Chinatown night market

Crowds at the Chinatown night market

I’d been told that the Chinatown market had lost a lot of its pep in previous years; no food vendors and really nothing special to visit, but this year was set to be different. Successful local restauranteur, Tannis Ling is heading up the team bringing the market to Chinatown and the word was that it would be every bit as good as her modern Chinese Bao Bei brasserie 

Market whizz - Tannis Ling

Market whizz – Tannis Ling

We arrived just before 9pm and it was packed. The Keefer block between Main and Columbia was roped off and heaving with people; the sizzle and tempting smell of fresh-fried food in the air and music playing as dancers performed on a small stage.  I adore how unashamedly interested in food people are in Vancouver. I beamed as I overheard so many cries of “What’s that? Where can I get it?” as people walked by, salivating at what everyone else was eating.

At the Columbia end, there’s a line-up food trucks – including my personal favourite Soho Road – along with dozens of street vendors whipping up everything from night market favourite, the potato tornado – which I plan to get to next time – bubble tea (am becoming addicted to honey green tea with coconut jelly), squid (bit meh, apparently) to chicken rice (perfect – I loved the chicken stock-cooked rice). Most popular food of the night? Wheelcakes: a doughy hob-cooked cake with a judicious dollop of filling – nutella, custard or peanut butter. We had to wait 25 minutes to get ours and when we did, we discovered that the best was a smoosh of the nutella and peanut together – warm, salty and sweet.

It's all about the wheelcakes

It’s all about the wheelcakes

Tannis wanted to create a market that showcased the culture of the area, old and new; movies screened on the wall are planned along with Mahjong and storytelling events. We ended the night in fits of laughter playing ping pong by moonlight. Yes, Richmond has its appeal, but I liked that this was on my doorstep and had a real community feel. Whatever the old market may have been like, the new one is well worth a visit; free to enter, there’s plenty to see and do and I’m already excited about the forthcoming ‘Dumpling weekend’ and the outdoor hip hop karaoke bouts…

Need to know:

Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday 6pm – 11pm till September 8th 2013.


15
May 13

Sunday Morning Ice Cream: flavours worth staying home for

I love Meyer lemons - they're a cross between lemons and mandarins and are wonderful in a G&T

I love Meyer lemons – they’re a cross between lemons and mandarins and are wonderful in a G&T

I hate to be a roaring cliche but sometimes when life hands you a giant sack of lemons, it makes sense to make a bucket of delicious lemonade. That’s what I tried to do in April. Flattened by an injury I had to stay at home for the whole month, lying on my back, my foot propped up high, icing it every couple of hours. Blee. So after a weekend having a good cry and feeling sorry for myself I decided that this was the perfect time to try the Sunday Morning Ice Cream service – after all – when else could I be certain I’d be home every Sunday morning to receive it?

My favourite: a base steeped in freshly popped, buttered popcorn layered with homemade salted butter caramel, pralined almonds and fleur de sel.

My favourite: a base steeped in freshly popped, buttered popcorn layered with homemade salted butter caramel, pralined almonds and fleur de sel.

It’s a great idea. You sign up to a month’s delivery. You have no idea what flavour you’ll get – only that it will have been home-made by gelato super-gal, Genevieve and that it will come – freshly-churned – to your door. Each Sunday morning you get an email with the flavour profile, appropriately, that first week it was Meyer Lemon and Buttermilk – lemons into lemon ice cream then.

Some say you shouldn't combine florals with coffee. Not I. And not the Sunday Morning Ice CreamCo.

Some say you shouldn’t combine florals with coffee. Not I. And not the Sunday Morning Ice Cream Co.

The pots are small – sorry – there’s no way I’d share and yes, for the first week there was a lingering snarky feeling of “Ouch, I just paid $40 for a small pot of heaven…” The next week that $40 faded into the ether and all was left was the best freaking ice cream I’d ever had. So for the next three weeks there was an overwhelmingly joyful feeling that a lovely lady was, for no reason, bringing me a treat each Sunday morning.

Hand-made ice-cream, home-made labels

Hand-made ice-cream, home-made labels

I tried to eke each pot out to make it last longer than Sunday. But that never happened. It was a bonus if it made it past Sunday lunch to be truthful. If you’ve no plans to leave the house each Sunday morning – sign up. For a gift, I’d say it’s one of the best you could get for someone living in Vancouver. Four mornings of the perfect treat, a whole month of something special.

Find them on Twitter

Tart rhubarb and sweet cream. I basically inhaled this :(

Tart rhubarb and sweet cream. I basically inhaled this…

 


7
May 13

Afternoon tea at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

Before I moved to Vancouver I didn’t think I was terribly British at all, but the further away I am from England, the more I find myself ticking all those stereotypical Brit boxes. Take afternoon tea, for example, I’m no tea drinker at home – I don’t even own a kettle! It’s coffee all the way for me, but when Nancie invited over to the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver to see what their spread was like I jumped at the chance. Tea! Sandwiches! A three-tiered cake stand! Oh, be still my fluttering British heart…

Essentially how I'd like every Friday at 3pm to start, please.

Essentially how I’d like every Friday at 3pm to start, please.

I had a fun afternoon ‘cocktail’ tea at the gorgeous Fairmont Chateau Whistler as part of the Cornucopia festival. I’d imagined this tea was going to be a traditionally sober affair, but hooray! I was wrong. We started our feast with an glass of bubbly, which is a hugely cheery thing to do on a Friday at 3pm, and I absolutely recommend it.

The most tricky task of the afternoon was picking which tea to have; the menu is pleasingly large and infuriatingly tempting with some two dozen blends to pick from. I ummed and ahed over the Maple Maple or the Empress Orange Pekoe but in the end went for the divine-sounding Versailles Lavender Earl Grey – after all, I was about to eat cake so why not go for something Marie Antoniette-ish? I’m a fan of florals, I know they’re a kind of love-them-or-hate-them flavour but I’m definitely in the ‘love’ camp. Anything with a rose, violet or lavender taste, count me in. There was just enough perfume in this blend to not overwhelm, I decided against adding milk and wondered where I could find some to have at home. Tea worth buying a kettle for? Maybe.

*Muffled sounds of greedy applause*

*Muffled sounds of greedy applause*

It was tough not to whoop when our three-tiered stand of delights arrived; scones on top, delicate patisserie in the middle and itsy-bitsy sandwiches on the bottom. The formality and utter indulgence of an afternoon tea delights me in every way. It’s always been one of my favourite things to do and the Fairmont didn’t let me down. The scones were a little too sweet, but I think this has to be a Canadian thing as everywhere I’ve had scones they are always a touch over-sugared for me, but the patisserie – one little raspberry pastry flecked with gold leaf in particular – superb and the crispy bacon on one of the sandwiches had me gurgling with delight!

Who can resist a smoked salmon pinwheel? Not I.

Who can resist a smoked salmon pinwheel? Not I.

I leaned back on the padded armchair (with wheels! so you can adjust your chair in ultimate comfort) and looked at the room; all gilt-edged and old-fashioned glamour, I was definitely in my happy place. I think I’ve found my new favourite Friday afternoon treat – now, who’s coming with me next time?

*Dribble*

*Dribble*

I was a very cheerful guest of the Fairmont Vancouver hotel for tea – but all my words, as ever, are 100% my own. Admittedly, they were mostly moans of pleasure as it was glorious, but still. 

Need to know:

Book afternoon tea at the 900 West Lounge at the Fairmont Vancouver at 1pm or 3pm here or call call (604) 443-1807 to reserve.

Afternoon tea is $39 per person, a glass of Moet & Chandon champagne an extra $20.

 

 

 


22
Apr 13

Gulf Island Hopping Part 4: Flavours of Salt Spring Island

Welcome to "The Rock'

Welcome to “The Rock’

The largest of all the Gulf Islands, the more I got to see of Salt Spring, the better I liked it. Not so small that you’d feel isolated, yet spacious and wild enough to let you feel that you’d got away from it all – and best of all – packed to the gills with exceptional small-batch businesses making lovely things. Each Saturday from Easter weekend through till the last week in October, you’ll find them – and many others – at the weekly market.

Mt Maxwell Coffee

For happy is the hippy who roasteth in his yurt

Happy is the hippy who roasts in his yurt

When life points you towards a hippy in a yurt, roasting coffee beans, only a fool does not visit…. I had an excellent coffee at the lovely Auntie Pesto restaurant down on the boardwalk in Ganges village. Turns out it was blended specially for them by John over at the Mt Maxwell Coffee Roasters. I drove up to see him, tucked away on his farm up on Mount Maxwell. Trying hard to not run over the chickens scurrying around, I parked up and ventured inside the yurt for a tasting. I’ve written before about my frustration finding coffee that’s to my taste in Canada (not over-roasted and burnt) and this is perfect – a mellow, medium roast that has me cheering every morning when I make it.

Must have: The Black Crow espresso blend.

Moonstruck Cheese

If you made that amazing cheese, you'd be that happy too

If you made that amazing cheese, you’d be that happy too

You can hear the Jersey cows moo-ing when you arrive at the Moonstruck Cheese farm. I must confess a love of Jerseys; their milk is so rich and fat it always makes the best butter and ice cream, which is why Julia Grace uses nothing but her own herd’s milk to make her award-winning organic cheeses. “Jersey milk is complicated,” she explained to me, “It’s so fat you need to gently blend it, it’s really a milk designed for small producers but it gives cheese with a sweetness and wonderful mouth feel.” Julia makes hard cheeses, French-style succulent soft cheeses and creamy blues too.

Must have: The Tomme D’Or somewhere between a Parmesan and a Cheddar and absolutely delicious.

Saltspring Soapworks

Because the family who makes soap together, stays together

Because the family who makes soap together, stays together

When it comes to beauty products for me the more natural the better and if it’s organic and hand-made then I’m in heaven. So no wonder I flipped for these guys. The SaltSpring Soap Works began  as a kitchen table hobby back in 1979 has grown into a family business creating everything from body gelato and lip balms to bath bombs and ultra-moisturising body souffle. I love that it’s a family concern; founder Linda still creates her skin-loving products, alongside her son Gary, who makes soap every day, daughter-in-law Amber and also her grandson Owen who’s begun experimenting with making bath bombs.

Must have: the Rose d’Amour soap. Creamy with a gentle petal-soft fragrance.

Garry Oaks winery

All wine should be this bling-y

All wine should be this bling-y

OK, so you can’t buy wine at the market, but you have to pop along to their tasting room and buy some at the source instead. You can see the vines lined up on the hillside as you drive towards the winery on the slopes of Mt Maxwell. After quitting the corporate world 15 years ago to live their dream of making wine on the island, Elaine and Marcel founded Garry Oaks on a 100-year old farm. Growing Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Zweigelt and Leon Millot varieties, Elaine creates award-winning blends and varietals. I adored their 2010 Pinot Noir, which was unusual as I’ve not been too excited by BC reds so far, “It’s very Burgundian,” explained Elaine, “Elegant and complex, it’s not a big wine, it’s more European.”

Must have: The Pinot Noir – it’s a wonderful French-style red.

I whizzed about visiting everyone in a car from Salt Spring Island Car Rental. LOVE that they are an independent not a chain. So – leave your car at home, chill and enjoy the view from the BC ferry and support ‘em.


17
Apr 13

Gulf Island Hopping Part 3: Pender Island

Nope - still not the caribbean - welcome to the Gulf Islands...

Nope – still not the caribbean – welcome to the Gulf Islands…

It’s as we cross the slender bridge which joins north and south Pender Island together, that I realise I really should have hired a car. I’d cheerily walked off the BC Ferry at Otter Bay and hopped onboard my shuttle ride to Poets Cove Resort, but twenty minutes drive and we still weren’t there. In my head, everything had been an easy hike away; in reality Pender was a lot bigger than that, steep hills and narrow roads put my usual ‘borrow a bike’ plan off the slate and an already wonky ankle definitely put any long-distance hikes out, so as we drove along I tried to formulate a cunning Plan B

On the road and the view is wonderful

On the road and the view is wonderful

Poets Cove is pretty much all that’s on the south island. It’s a family-friendly holiday spot with its own bar, coffee shop and restaurant. Windy pathways lead down to the pretty sandy beach and from my room, I could see the boats bob on the shallow waves down at the marina. I’d arranged to borrow a resort car for the morning before I was scheduled to travel to Salt Spring Island, but that left me with a day and half to do… nothing. I’ve no practice at just staying put, so to find myself with a suddenly blank schedule sent me into a tailspin. Until I realised – this is what people do on holiday… so, Plan B: experience a holiday resort as though I am ‘on holiday’.

I read a book, I watched the sea, I pottered around a little and even had a nap. My major activity was visiting the ‘steam cave’ in the spa; a fun way to re-design the typical steam room, it really felt like a cave and I spent a happy hour flitting between the cave and the hot tub on the deck overlooking the sea. And yes, I felt really relaxed, but I was definitely ready to go when it came time to explore. Turns out that I’m no good at ‘being on holiday’ after all.

I would have demanded we move here if I'd seen this when I was 8

I would have demanded we move here if I’d seen this when I was 8

Pender Island landmarks seemed to have been named by a committee of Disney employees; Magic Lake, the Enchanted Forest and I even found a junction where Shark Road met Pirate Road.  Less densely forested than Galiano, Pender seemed to tend more to rolling farmland which let you peek away from the road to see the cliffs and sea beyond. I drove over to the north island, to Hope Bay and took a stroll along the boardwalk there. It was closed for the winter season when I visited, but it was easy to see how lovely it would be in full swing of summer, to visit the little parade of shops and stop for lunch at the Cafe. I read later that a group of 27 islanders banded together to buy the land after a fire destroyed the original historic buildings there as they were worried the site would be over-developed. They achieved their goal and maintained the spirit of the original and now it’s owned by a local island family.

I'm glad they managed to preserve this site...

I’m glad they managed to preserve this site…

Alas the cafe there was closed, so I drove on to the Bakery Cafe where I could happily have tried one of everything. Double-chocolate mint cookie sandwiches, vast slabs of peanut butter fudge-y tarts- I wished I’d stopped here on the way to Poets Cove and picked up a few treats.

Excellent car-lift share scheme

Excellent car-lift share scheme

On my whistlestop tour around the island, I discovered that it was a rather beautiful place – and smart too – as I was driving around, I discovered one of its nifty ideas -  the ‘car stop’ system. Dotted around the island are designated areas where you can stand and wait for a lift. There are a few simple rules and the system apparently works well. On Salt Spring I had a car and picked up a few teenage hitchers myself. So maybe all isn’t lost if you don’t have a car after all…

Find out more: http://www.penderislandchamber.com/


14
Apr 13

Gulf Island Hopping Part 2: Galiano Island – things to do

 

Seals taking it easy.

Seals taking it easy.

Grand Central
I didn’t expect to stumble upon hipster central on Galiano Island, but clearly island living attracts a certain kind of cool. This diner/emporium would not be out of place in San Francisco or Brighton but no – here it is – on Galiano Island. I drank my very first orange creamsicle here, a fantastic concoction of orange soda and vanilla ice cream, loved my toasted sandwich and sneaked a spoonful of my friend’s borsch soup, which was perfect too. Free wifi, cool music and good food. If you go to Galiano – go here.

Uber hip

Grand Central Cafe

Hike the trails, climb the mountain
I can’t recall ever seeing trees like this before. Thin branches, covered in a velvety-green moss, stretching away from the trunk, curling up to the sky like fancy ribbon on a shop-wrapped parcel. Hike the deep forest trails in Bluff Park, thick with cinnamon-coloured Arbutus trees. Walk to the top of Mount Galiano and look out over the Gulf Islands. Picnic at the top and get a bird’s eye view.

Curly branches in the Bluffs

Curly branches in the Bluffs

See the Kunamokst Mural
190 artists from coastal regions from Mexico to British Columbia collaborated on a ‘mystery’ mosaic project – each artist was given a panel to create and asked to follow a colour guide and shape outline. No one knew what the end product would be: a mother orca whale and her calf. It was officially unveiling during the 2010 Winter Olympics, as part of the Cultural Olympiad at Spirit Square. Now you can see it up close on display at the Galiano Inn.

The Kunamokst Mural

The Kunamokst Mural

Shop local at the Galiano Soapworks
Indulge in a spot of retail beauty therapy at the Soapworks where all the products are made on the island, using many of the products grown on their farm. Organic, natural and raw ingredients like lavender, wildcraft chamomile, mint, comfrey, sea buckthorn leaves and nettles (apparently great for youthful skin) are used in the products. I picked up some Curly Kale cream (my commitment to BC’s favourite brassica knows no bounds) but could have happily filled a basket with everything from fragrant beeswax candles to artisan soaps and body care. As well as the shop, there’s also a working farm and animal sanctuary here.

I'll have one of everything, please.

I’ll have one of everything, please.

Visit Galiano Island’s answer to Stonehenge
Near Bodega Ridge on the north side of the island is Stoneworld; a collection of massive monoliths, standing stones and a large Inukshuk placed in fields where sheep placidly graze. I spent a happy half hour or so wandering around, admiring the work. I was told that one of the stone circles is ‘attuned’ to the Summer Solstice, so if you’re missing your Glastonbury fix – this could be a great alternative.

Welcome to Stoneworld

Welcome to Stoneworld

Find out more: http://www.galianoisland.com/


2
Apr 13

Gulf Island hopping with BC Ferries

I’m a huge fan of slow travel. Not accidentally slow, like a replacement bus service or a delayed plane, no, the kind of slow that lets you get a sense of distance from A to B, the kind of slow which allows you to spot birds and spy wildlife along the way, maybe even time to see the sky bruise and sunsets blaze. Definitely the kind of slow where there’s plenty of time to watch out of the window and wonder. So, yeah – I was all set to enjoy travelling by ferry around the Gulf Islands, which lie some 20 miles off the coast of Vancouver’s Tsawwassen harbour.

This is an awfully cool way to arrive anywhere.

This is an awfully cool way to arrive anywhere.

I hopped aboard a range of different BC ferries on my travels between Vancouver and the Galiano, Pender and Salt Spring Islands – from huge multi-deck modern gleaming commuter ferries serving up sushi in the canteen to tiny single deckers without so much as a snackbar.

Getting there:
Take the Pacific Coach line bus from Vancouver’s Central bus station. This is the easiest option by far if you’re heading to Victoria as the bus drives onto the ferry and drops you off downtown. No need to stress about luggage, you can leave it all on board – plus the bus has free wifi. However, I was taking the Galiano boat, so needed to change. Fortunately my driver Larry was an absolute peach. He escorted me to the luggage area, tagged my bag so that it would be put on the right ferry (it was!) and showed me where I could get some food and a coffee.

Nerdy, but I adored this and have far too many photos of it.

Nerdy, but I adored this and have far too many photos of it.

I was impressed by the ferry market building – the floor is a highly polished ocean and islands map of the area – a gorgeous detail that I bet gets mostly missed. You could happily spend an hour browsing the stores, snacking on anything from burgers to sushi, or drinking organic Salt Spring Island coffee beside the fireplace here. It’s a far cry from any ferry terminal I’ve been to in Europe.

There. Don't you feel relaxed just looking at that?

There. Don’t you feel relaxed just looking at that?

But back to the ferries. It’s a restful experience, rain or shine, you pass through glorious scenery that I would happily have paid to drift around simply as a pleasure cruise. Mossy-looking mountains, impossibly green forests, startlingly golden beaches, and here and there a house built up on the shore that just begged you to imagine living there, watching and waiting for the pods of Orca whales come sailing through, each April to October.

Clouds finally lifting...

Clouds finally lifting…

It was drizzling as I went to Galiano Island. The sky was grey, the sea a gloomy kind of gun metal and no one apart from me was on the deck. I watched a gull showboating on the breeze, squinted in the distance and tried to work out which island was to be mine for the next few days. I walked around the ferry, past the solarium, with its sun-trap seating and imagined what it would be like in the summertime, the ferry bustling with day trippers and holiday makers. Feeling the sun on your face and the tang of the saltspray on your lips. Heaven. But it was March and it was drizzly, so I wrapped my scarf around my face and enjoyed the solitude, waiting for the clouds to clear.

 I travelled as a guest of BC Ferries and Pacific Coach Lines – but my views are 100% my own.


26
Mar 13

Bordeaux bliss in Vancouver: Château Olivier winery dinner at Le Gavroche

They like to keep busy in the winter months, these Vancouver types… hot on the heels of  the excellent Dine Out festival, the Vancouver International Wine festival clinked into town. What began as a one winery, two-day event back in 1979 has grown into Canada’s premier wine show, featuring 175 wineries from 15 countries pouring an astounding 1,850 wines at 54 events. The ever-popular Grand Tasting evenings are an amazing opportunity to sniff, swirl and sniff your way around the world of wine; tasting everything from First Nations wine made right here in BC to vintage Champagne, Japanese Sake and even the first (surprisingly good) non-sparkling wines from Freixenet.

Blissfully divine wine

Blissfully divine wine

This year the focus was on California and Chardonnay wines and yes, I did mean to dive into exploring both, but flipping through the thick glossy brochure, something decidedly tempting caught my eye and well, it was too much for me to resist. French food. Dazzling Bordeaux. A restaurant I’ve been eyeing up for a while… Hey – I’m not made of stone, which is why I wound up at Le Gavroche enjoying their wonderful French food paired with heavenly wines from Château Olivier one rainy night in February.

Le Gavroche opened its doors the same year the wine festival launched – in Vancouver restaurant terms, a successful 35-year old restaurant is a venerable vintage indeed. I’ve written before about this city’s seemingly unquenchable desire for NEW! NEW! NEW! but for me, I like somewhere that’s shown it can do what it takes year after year, long after the bloom of a hot new opening fades. I had impossibly high hopes for this evening and I wasn’t disappointed.

Seeing double?

Seeing double?

I’ll confess: I’m new to the world of Getting Serious About Learning About Wine and I know my linguistic limits, so I’m not going to even try to write in any kind of intelligent way about the wine – perhaps after a few more ‘lessons’ I may be able to offer up something smarter than “I loved it”  – but I’m discovering that maybe I like the elegance of old world red wines better than almost anything else at all. Paired with a perfectly fruity lavender crusted duck and a meltingly-meaty sous vide lamb (that came with witty side of sheep’s milk yoghurt) we had three different Château Olivier Rouge to try; the 2001, 2005 and 2009. Easy to see, after listening to  estate owner, Alexandre de Bethmann talk about the process of creating these velvety reds and the history of the Château, what a seductive hobby ‘Being Serious About Wine’ could be; exploring the subtle differences between the wines, then trying them with food – and without – to see the flavours develop and change.

We finished the meal with a Château d’Armajan des Ormes Sauternes; silky and sweet, it was the perfect foil to an espresso chocolate cake. Swirling the golden liquid in my glass, listening to the talk of vintages around me, I realised that like when I went back to ‘school’ at the Victoria’s Art of the Cocktail festival, I learn so much when I’m around people with a passion for what they love. If you even have the slightest suspicion that you may ‘like wine’ then go to a winery dinner and learn from those who love it. Perfect food, fascinating company and world-class wine – what’s not to love? Make a note in your diary for November 1st, 2013 as that’s when advance tickets for the 2014 festival go on sale. I can’t wait…

Thanks to Le Gavroche, Château Olivier and Waldorf Wine for hosting me. As ever – my views are 100% my own.


21
Mar 13

The Yukon Quest 2013

And so it begins

And so it begins

The Yukon has fascinated me. I’ve waited to write about the Yukon Quest race because I just keep reading more and more about it, losing myself down a rabbit hole of myths, legends and impossible-sounding stories which turn out to be true. This is a race like no other: one thousand miles in bitter sub-zero temperatures following the route of the historic 1890s Klondike Gold Rush route between Fairbanks, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon. Just mushers, their teams of sled dogs and the bone-numbing cold and unimaginably vast spaces of the Great White North. On average it takes between 10-20 days to cover the route. Unlike other endurance races, there are only ten checkpoints along the way – some are more than 200 miles apart. The originators of the Quest decided to make it harder than other races, more ‘woodsman-like’ as they wanted it to be a race where ‘survival would be as important as speed.’

I was taking photographs at the start of the race. I lay in snow at the side of the track, I had my Canada Goose parka on; gloves, scarf, snow pants, I was well-wrapped up, but some 45 minutes lying in that snow, slowly feeling the cold bite at my face and fingers, made me look at these mushers with awe. To be that cold; to race through the day and night, frost forming on beards, eyelashes icing up, with no hope of a warm bed at the end – took courage that I couldn’t imagine possessing.

Late sun in Whitehorse - this was about 1030 am

Late sun in Whitehorse – this was about 1030 am

There’s a romance about the race for sure; I shared a lift into town with a couple from Vienna who’d come to Whitehorse to see the lights and had been bitten by the bug, “It’s highly non-technical,” enthused Peter Pollak, “It emphasises self-reliance, there’s no one there to pick you up, you have to take care of your dogs first and then yourself.” His wife, Mary, agreed, “We didn’t know about it before we came, but there’s something addictive about it. We’ve already planned to come back next year to follow the trail.”

Race into the snow

Race into the snow

I’ll come clean – before I came, I couldn’t imagine being interested in this at all. This has “NOT MY THING” all over it in neon letters, but I got excited by the atmosphere and found myself pulled in; I talked to the handlers, petted the excited dogs and chatted to a few of the mushers, like Christina Traverse who saw the Quest on TV and thought, “I want to do that one day”. This was to be her first Quest, but I saw on the site, that she lasted just 41hrs, 44mins before being retired from the race and hospitalised. I remember the trepidation – and excitement – in her eyes and I know she’ll be back again another year.

It takes about 15-30 seconds to put on each bootie.. which could be almost 30 minutes for a 14-dog team

It takes about 15-30 seconds to put on each bootie.. which could be almost 30 minutes for a 14-dog team

Brent Sass, a Quest regular, running his seventh race, came in third. He first got started after he saw a dog team, “I wanted to do that. One dog turned into five, turned into 10, then 25. The first time I did the Quest was scary; all the uncertainties of the trail and the obstacles ahead, you don’t know what you’re going to run into, but I enjoy it all, I thrive when the hard weather comes.”

The love of the mushers for their dogs was clear; the last musher to run spent time kissing, hugging and talking to each of his dogs, who were all excitedly pulling and jumping, desperate to get racing before stepping behind his sled and heading off into a thousand miles of snow and ice.

They adore their dogs

They adore their dogs

I looked at the stats and the times of all the mushers from this year’s race, there’s a section on the site where you can leave messages for them – there must have been thousands. School children who were studying the race who saw the mushers as their heroes (I found this amazing Yukon Quest maths sheet!), fellow dog-lovers, even relatives and friends leaving messages of love and support that had me welling up. I thought about how they must feel – anxious for their loved one but bursting with pride – imagining them far out in the snow with nothing but the sound of bootie-clad paws racing across the ice for company, nothing but 250lbs of packed equipment and provisions on their sled between checkpoints to keep them going. I saw wisps of straw fall as I lay in the snow, I imagined the dogs curled up on it, resting, and the musher, after massaging their feet, changing their booties, feeding and watering them, eventually curling up too, grabbing a few short hours sleep before pushing on again to that finish line.

Ready to go

Ready to go

I travelled as a guest of Yukon Tourism - as ever – my views are 100% my own.

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