It’s the kind of sunshine that warms bone-deep. I close my eyes and feel soft morning rays as comforting as a cashmere scarf wrap me in a delicious warmth.
I’ve missed the sun.
I’ve dreamed of seeing Canada’s desert since I first knew it existed. It sounds like the most ridiculous of contradictions: to think of Canada is to imagine snow and skiing, moose and mounties, but here I am amongst the cacti and rattlesnakes in Osoyoos. Below me are the smooth calm waters of the lake and rising up on either side barren, scrubby, arid hills dotted with determined Ponderosa pines. Continue reading →
Not even joking. This is everything I wore in minus 35 Winnipeg
I’m a firm believer in the maxim that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. Coming from England, I had no idea at all when I first came to Canada what truly cold weather felt like. I vividly remember it, I was staying at the Germain Maple Leaf Square in Toronto in late December. I’d taken a cab to the hotel from the airport, so hasn’t a clue what it was really like. I left my room and pulled on a coat, gloves and scarf. I got as far as the other side of the pavement before I scuttled back inside to, well, to put on pretty much absolutely everything else I owned.
Icy Canadian sub-zero temperatures cut like a knife. It starts like a vicious whipcrack shock of cold which smarts and aches, and then it builds, first burning and then numbing your bones and body. Oh man. It hurts. And that’s not even getting into the horror of your eye lashes freezing, the weird and deeply unpleasant sensation of your nose hairs freezing solid –and then the raw burn that just breathing sub-zero air brings to your nose and throat.
For once, I got smart fast. After all, I realised that people live quite happily in sub-zero Canada: so how do they do it? The answer? The right kit. I managed to camp in minus 46 degrees with the right clothes this year without running shrieking into the snow, begging for it to end. I’ve come a long way from that gal just four years ago who thought you could put a cardigan on and you’d be fine. Now I have a stash of winter gear and that’s what I want to recommend right now, so if you’re planning a trip next winter you can score a deal in the sales. Continue reading →
In wintertime Scandinavian-style spas make a virtue of the pay off between a little ‘pain’ and a lot of pleasure. Stepping carefully in flip flops dressed in a woolen ‘toque’ hat, and a towelling robe, across an icy path as a blizzard of snowflakes pelt you from every angle, it’s hard to not look longingly back at the warmly-lit indoors and wonder what on earth you are doing… and whether perhaps, instead of stripping down to your swimming costume in the sub-zero night, you might actually be better served putting a few more layers on and wrapping yourself around a velvety cup of rum-spiked hot chocolate instead.
And then you kick your sandals off, shiver as you take off the robe and step into the steamy water and everything makes sense. I defy anyone to go from the bitter cold into an invitingly hot pool and not loudly sigh ‘Ahhhhhh!’ as they do so. The blissful relief! As the steamy hot water bubbled around I wriggled my now-unfrozen toes with glee and admired my surroundings. Quebec’s OFURO spa is in Morin Heights, I drove there along quiet roads which seemed plucked from christmas card scenes, all snowy churches and towering spires. Continue reading →
I think I may have just found my new favourite spa. And, wonder of wonders, it has a hotel attached too, so should your heart desire (and your wallet allow) you could never, ever leave. After twenty minutes in the spa and hotel Le Finlandais that’s pretty much all I was planning so consider yourself warned, this spa and hotel have impressive powers.
Hyperbole aside, what makes this great? It is, as ever, the attention to detail which elevates it from ‘wow’ to ‘ZOMYGOD!’ Firstly it’s overcoming the issue of location; it’s true that the spa and hotel are located on a singularly unlovely strip of highway some 30 minutes drive from Montreal, and, to make things worse, the hotel and spa are on opposite sides of the road. I snorted to myself when I saw this and rolled my eyes, but a toasty-warm shuttle service from door to door, that I never waited more than 30 seconds for, soon squashed any negative thoughts. Continue reading →
If you learn one thing about the people of Canada it’s that they embrace the lot that life has given them when it comes to the elements. Whereas in England we shiver and curse the weather, in Winnipeg, when it buckets down with snow and the wind chill factor takes it down to a horrifying minus 40-something degrees, instead of getting on a plane to someplace warm, they go outside to play. Continue reading →
I looked up over my breakfast and pondered the stuffed lynx staring glassy-eyed into the distance as I spooned up my yoghurt. I thoughtfully licked my spoon and turned my head a little and spotted a stuffed owl. The clink of china and babble of slow morning conversation mixed with a CD of rhythmic chants and tribal songs of the Huron Wendat people. Welcome to breakfast time at the Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations. Just 15 minutes drive from Quebec City, the Wendake reserve houses a museum and longhouse which has bought the culture of the Huron Wendat nation into an accessible tourist destination with a first class hotel and restaurant. Continue reading →
I guess I’d imagined that ice fishing would be like one of the cartoons that I’d seen when I was a kid. I had some Hanna-Barbera eskimo in my mind, a guy in a parka sawing a hole through the ice, baiting his hook and lowering the line. But this, if you’ll excuse the pun, was a different kettle of fish altogether.
The Atikamekw way of ice fishing means that you don’t drill one hole, you drill eight. “If you have just one hole you’ll only have enough for yourself,” explained Daveen, my Atikamekw guide. “We use nets so we have enough for us all.” Once you’ve made your eight holes you thread a line through them and pull a net along it under the water. The plan is that you come back the next day to collect enough fish for everyone. I could see the logic but we’d been at it for almost three hours now and the sun was sinking like a hot buttered penny into the horizon, robbing us of light. Continue reading →
I wasn’t expecting to see her when I walked into the tiny church, but there she was, in pride of place on the wall, just above photos of the new pope and the old one.
Who is that? I asked my guide.
It’s Saint Kateri, she told me. The world’s only First Nations saint.
Truth be told I’d not wanted to bother with the church at all on my tour around the reserve at Wendake. I was here to find out about the Huron-Wendat, to soak up their culture at the Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations, and so no, a catholic church was definitely not on my Must See list. But oftentimes when you’re with a guide you try to be polite, so, I’d walked in from the cold, kicked the snow from my boots at the door and looked around in a disinterested kind of way before double-taking at the altar. A glowing, gorgeous native girl, her long brown hair in braids, holding a crucifix. Not what you’d expect at all.
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“I’ve lived here my whole life.” says Isabel as she shows me how to carefully thread the tiny beads on to the wire needle. “You’ve never lived anywhere else?” “Never. I love it here. My front door, I’ve never locked it. Ever. I know everyone and everyone knows me. My mum is my neighbour. I see my dad every day. Any time I’m not working and I want to talk to someone, I just go outside.” I try and pick the beads onto the wire, I’m not deft as Isabel, my little beads flick off, ricocheting across the table. I apologise and she giggles. Isabel tells me about her sister who’s currently living in British Columbia for a short while on a work contract, her face changes as she talks of how much she misses her. “She’ll be back. I know, she’ll be back.” Continue reading →
The last time I can remember this scent in the air was in Sri Lanka; the smoky perfume of incense mixed with the sweet smell of flowers left as offerings to Buddha. But this time I’m not in Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth, there is no elephant tethered outside, no mischievous monkeys clambering the temple walls, nor gaudily-painted tuk tuks or King Coconut sellers ready to take your money. No, despite the incense and the gloriously golden glitz of the multi-armed Guan-Yin, I’m actually just a few miles from Vancouver in Richmond.
A short stop away from the Canada Line train, along the Highway to Heaven (the poetic name for No. 5 Road) you’ll find some 20 different places of worship: temples, mosques and churches co-exist peacefully together, side by side. Take a turn on to the Steveston Highway and you’ll find the most dazzling of all, the International Buddhist Temple, North America’s largest, modelled after China’s Forbidden City in Beijing and the start of my exploration into how to celebrate Chinese New Year in Canada. The festival is a big deal in Richmond, where some 60% of residents are Asian-Canadian, so before each Lunar New Year in February, the temple does a brisk business in the golden baubles and flowers trade, with the devout stopping by to purchase armfuls of each to take home and to give as gifts. Continue reading →