“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 →
Posts Tagged: Canada
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.
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.
People ask me all the time why I moved to Vancouver and I have just one answer: “You’ve seen here, right?” and I mean it. I’d read about Vancouver for years before I ever made it out here. I wanted to move, sight unseen, but my ex-partner refused and so I bided my time until three years ago I finally made it out here for a three-night stay. It was, of course, raining and I didn’t feel that feeling that I thought I’d have; I didn’t feel excited, didn’t feel a rush of emotion, nothing. It was cold and a little misty and just not what I’d thought it would be at all.
On my second night I had a meal at the Salt Tasting Room, I asked for the BC platter and had wine from BC too. I had no idea that BC even had a wine industry, so to get glass after glass of exciting wines was like being hit by an awfully alcoholic thunderbolt. Same for the charcuterie and cheeses; all local, all delicious and not one of them known to me before I sat down. I ate peaches from the exotic-sounding Similkameen paired with artisan Kulen sausage and wondered what other wonders lay in store in this strange new place.
The next day it rained again, I wandered around Chinatown, excited by the exotic produce in the groceries and the thrill of feeling I was truly in a very different country, I remember I went into a shop and when I came out, the city had done the very neat trick that it sometimes pulls off, the rain had stopped and as fast as the sun appeared the clouds vanished. I stood on the busy pavement and gaped at what I saw down the road; huge snow-capped mountains, rising above me. I hadn’t even known they were there! There was something about the chaos of Chinatown, the noise of the city combined with the breathtaking beauty of those mountains and the promise of the ocean at the end of the street. I felt a rush of emotion and burst into tears. It wasn’t love at first sight no – but oh, I have fallen so hard that I think this may be forever.
I moved here nine months ago and I haven’t regretted it for a second. I find Canadians, on the whole, to be warm, friendly people; I love how chatty my neighbours all are and the real sense of caring within the community that I’ve found here in the West End. I’m lucky enough to have met genuine, kind, funny, brilliant people who have become friends. I’m enchanted with the daily thrill of fresh discoveries – a cheese I’ve never tried, a new-to-me fish like the spot prawn – and I cannot take my eyes off those mountains. I sleep with my curtains open every night and their mesmerising beauty makes me feel lucky to be here every single day when I wake up and see them.
So, I’ve made a decision; I want this to be my home. I’m applying for residency. It won’t be easy and it could take years but I want this more than anything. I’ve fallen head over heels in love with Canada and I want to stay – and share that by writing about it! I got talking with a fellow Brit (and fellow-writer), Lola Augustine who recommended Wildy Immigration – she recently had a great experience with them and now her and her husband are settled here and having their own adventures in Nova Scotia. So I’ve been in touch and we’re going to start the paperwork (wow, it feels serious to have a lawyer!) I already took a look at the process and frankly, I’m glad to have *someone* who knows what they are doing as complicated forms and I are not the best of friends! Hopefully, here’s to a new beginning for Freddie and I.
I’m excited about being here on my first ‘Canadian’ Canada Day. I’ll watch the parade later and see that joy that people have of simply being Canadian and hope that one day soon I can join in too, as a legal resident, not just a visitor.
I knew I was going to love Hastings House before I even got there – how could I not? A boutique Relais and Chateaux hotel, in a Sussex-style farmhouse overlooking the sea, on an island I’d dreamed of visiting for years. On paper it looked good, in reality it was even better. I was living in Brighton before I came to Canada and I used to love to go to the glorious old pubs out in the lush Sussex countryside for lunch. I almost clapped my hands with glee when I saw the Manor House dining room; crackling fire, leaded glass windows – it was like being back home in England – but with the promise of Canadian cuisine to come – the best of both worlds.
Hastings House was built in 1940, a reproduction Tudor-style manor house, it became a hotel in the 1980s with some of the old estate buildings repurposed as luxury country house-style accommodations. I stayed in the west wing of the farmhouse; a two-storey cottage which made me feel I’d stepped back into my grandma’s home, everything was pleasingly old-fashioned with just the right soft touches of luxury. From the stone fireplace with its stack of logs to the invitingly cosy sofa and feather-soft bed, here was a hotel that I could happily have moved into.
I pottered around the grounds, admiring the vegetable and herb gardens – all of which are used in the kitchen – and snapping photos of the wind-spinning sculptures dotted around the gardens. I wound up seeing these mesmerising pieces all around the island; Salt Spring is quite the artists colony and there’s a trail that you can follow, taking in the various studios around the island. That first day I took it easy; curled up on the sofa and read a PG Wodehouse novel by the fire. It was lashing with rain outside and there’s no happier feeling than listening to the rain thrum on the roof, feeling toasty-warm, as you toss another log on the fire.
As I strolled across to the Manor House that evening for dinner, I was already beaming contentedly, but the prospect of my meal tipped me over into idiot-grin territory. I’d read nothing but raves about the food here and after my meal I can see why. The most plump and perfect buttery prawns, pan-fried in Armagnac piled high on fresh-from-the garden greens. A succulent duck with the most ludicrously creamy, just-right dauphinoise potato. A swirl of watercress soup that almost had me licking the plate. A table-bangingly rich chocolate and raspberry confection to finish. There’s a reason why people wax lyrical about this place; it’s exceptionally good. Pair that with deft service, a crackling fire and wonderful room and you’ve a recipe for perfect happiness.
I strolled the few steps back to my farmhouse, the rain had stopped by now; the stars were coming out and I could hear the sounds of the sea from the harbour below. Tomorrow I’d explore Salt Spring Island, I’d wake to a warm pre-breakfast muffin and fresh juice delivered to my porch at 7am, but tonight I’d stoke the fire up again and listen to the wood pop and crackle as I drank herb tea feeling oddly at home, as though I were in Sussex, yet thousands of miles away from Brighton.
I stayed as a guest of Hastings House. Thank you! But – as ever – these are 100% my own words and opinions.
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.
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.
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…
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.
One of my big reasons for moving to Vancouver was its amazing food scene. Seriously. The dining scene in this town is phenomenal. I adore the care and passion that goes into creating menus here; chefs are excited about sustainable seafood, the farm-to-table food movement is alive and well, and the 100-mile diet (the idea that you eat only food from a 100-mile radius to cut down on food miles) began here.
Every January the city holds a Dine Out festival with over 200 restaurants onboard offering special menus across three price points. This is great for so many reasons; it galvanises a post-holidays city into getting out and spending again, many hotels partner up to offer discount rates to encourage visitors in the slow season and – best of all – it means that everyone can try somewhere and something new at an affordable price.
I got to have a sneak peek of the Glowbal Group‘s Dine Out offerings at a dine-around at Coast (one of my new absolute favourite places to eat), Black and Blue and Society. I’m going to try to find room in my already-packed-with-way-too-many-restaurants schedule (I admit it, I went a little crazy booking reservations) to go back and have a full portion of the juicy, tender grilled B.C. snapper and the next time the rain and clouds get too much I am off to Black and Blue for the most comforting, carb-packed ‘Blue Ribbon’ cottage pie which, frankly, oozed butter in the most cheering way. I would post a photo of it, but I INHALED the whole pie it was so damn good. Then thought – ‘hey – wasn’t I meant to take a shot of that?’ Sorry.
One problem: I may have to leave town to avoid camping out at Glowbal Grill and eating ALL the Peanut Butter bars – kind of like a millionaire’s shortbread, but with the cunning idea of replacing the heavy shortbread with a light sweet rice cake and the caramel with a whipped wedge of peanut butter. I’m sorry to report I may have scared my dining companions with my whimpers of delight. So, SO good… But there – that’s the point of the Dine Out festival – find new favourites… click on the site, read the menus, make a reservation and try something new.
I ate as a guest of the Glowbal Group – my views are 100% my own.
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.
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.
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
There are few things that make me happier than discovering new ways to get pleasantly tipsy, which means that two days at Victoria’s Art of the Cocktail festival (http://artofthecocktail.ca/) had me walking around with a silly grin on my face the whole time.
Bartenders, as a breed, tend to be playful types. Get a bunch of them from as far afield as the USA, Holland and the UK in the same city together, then stir in distillers, premium spirit companies, small-batch artisan spirits makers and a gang of devoted cocktail fans and you have a guaranteed recipe for mayhem. Add to that seminars and parties spread over three days in a gorgeous city and you can see why the Art of the Cocktail is my new favourite festival and I’m already wondering when I can get my ticket for next year’s event.
Here are the five things I got most excited about…
1. Cocktails and food pairings. Over at the Fairmont Empress Bengal Lounge booth, I tried a superb combo of an Apricot Summer Haze (Apricot puree, Finlandia vodka, Grand Marnier and Stellar’s Jay) served with a selection of Vancouver Island cheeses and the Fairmont Empress’s own honey. I’m going to look out for somewhere I can have a cocktail-matched menu in the same way that you have wine-paired meals. If you know of somewhere – tell me!
2. Tea in cocktails. I attended an excellent seminar hosted by Daniela Cubelic from Silk Road Tea (http://www.silkroadtea.com/), and Solomon Seigel, an award-winning bartender from Fire & Water in the Victoria Marriott. For me this was one of the most exciting sessions of the weekend. Solomon is a self-confessed tea-geek and it’s glorious to be in a room with someone who so clearly loves his subject and really goes that extra mile to discover amazing flavours. Tea frozen into ice cubes with vodka, tea made into a simple syrup and blended, tea-infused cocktails that have been forced carbonated… I am so inspired by this and can’t wait to start experimenting at home.
3. Artisan small-batch fruit liqueurs. Usually I’m no fan of liqueurs, they either taste syrupy or have too strong a punch of alcohol. Then I tried the Okanagan Spirits (http://www.okanaganspirits.com/) Raspberry liqueur. It was the purest burst of fruity flavour imaginable. Sunshine in a shot glass. I want to visit them and see what else they do. And then drink it.
4. Victoria Spirits Oaken Gin. I’m already a raving fan of the brilliant Victoria Spirits (http://www.victoriaspirits.com/) and their gin, so I was excited to visit them to see how they distilled and what new projects they were working on. Their barrel-aged gin is superb. It has a more complex, deeper flavour and it’s another spirit that I really want to experiment with to see how it works in cocktails.
5. I was taken out to the Sea Cider (http://www.seacider.ca/) farm in Saanichton for lunch and adored it. It really reminded me of a Basque cider house and the long flight of their eight different ciders that I tried really impressed me with the huge variety of products; from light apple-y blends and cloudy scrumpy-ish brews through to a perfect honey-ish Pomona that will pair perfectly with cheese, like an ice wine.
I travelled as a guest of Tourism Victoria – however, my views are 100% my own.
I’ve never seen the charms of “leaf peeping” before. And yes, that is a thing, not a made-up word. Leaf ‘peeping’ is the name given to going to see the autumn leaves when they change colour. ‘Leaves!” I thought to myself, ‘How exciting can looking at leaves be?!” Well, it turns out that I was probably looking at the wrong type of leaf, as I found myself reaching for my camera when I was on a walk last week around my neighbourhood in Kitsilano.
Dazzling candy-apple reds, zingy lemon-yellows and pumpkin-orange leaves took my breathe away. I even found some trees where the leaves were mid-change and spent far more time than is usually considered normal just beaming stupidly at the vivid colours.
Am I going to become a proper ‘peeper’? Go on peeping missions to peep? Um… I’ll get back to you on that. Er, maybe. But I love how gorgeous the leaves are; so incredibly bright, and yes, I’d like to see them reflected on a lake perhaps, or in full flush in a forest. I love the ones I can see here in Vancouver as the sudden shock of a vivid red tree in a street of green leaves is dazzling, but I’m told seeing whole forests aflame with colour is something else.
Oh, Canada, what have you done to me. One month here and already I’m slack-jawed with nature worship!
Keep exploring Canada
I knew that things were going to be different here in Canada. I knew I’d see things I’d not seen before, eat food I’d not heard of before and that most popular culture references would go merrily sailing over my head. I was, however, unprepared to be confronted with unfamiliar wildlife on my doorstep.
Recently, I took Freddie, my dog, out for his evening stroll around the block and saw something trotting towards us. At first I thought it was a cat and called out to it, then I saw its white ‘bib’ and swaying tail… Skunk! I knew that I should avoid it, I’d already heard dire warnings of the stink of skunk spray, but it was so damn cute! Sigh.. sensibly, Fred and I retreated to the road to watch Mr Skunk serenely trot past. I was completely excited. I couldn’t believe I’d seen something so unusual – to me – right outside my house.
A few nights later, I walked past the rather swanky building at the end of my block which has a swimming pool. I heard something so, on tip-toes, looked through the railings to see what it was. In a scene that was straight out of Disney, three raccoons were frolicking on the cover of the pool in the shallow end. They were playing! Splashing each other with water, and rolling around. It was adorable. I stayed there, silently watching, a huge grin on my face, until Fred became impatient and woofed his annoyance. Busted! The raccoons froze, one stared at me, looking down its pointy nose with those beady eyes behind their ‘bandit mask’ and then scampered off into the bushes.
Just last weekend I took a drive out to Deep Cove, a beautiful spot; all rolling hills and calm clear water, just 30 minutes away from downtown Vancouver. You can kayak and hike there and they have the most amazing doughnuts at Honey’s. As I was walking, I heard something singing. A bird? What? I looked up to the soaring green pine and saw it; not a bird, but something that looked like a squirrel. Perplexed, I tweeted to ask advice – and in yet another slice of Disney-come-to-life, it turns out it was a chipmunk.
I’m already quite in love with Vancouver, it’s full of great surprises, but who knew it was going to end up just like a Disney movie?