Posts Tagged: expat

Oct 13

One year in Canada

It’s been a year; a whole year since I arrived in Vancouver and I feel like I never want to leave. If I thought I was flirting with the idea of being here before then it’s turned into a full-blown passion. All year long Vancouver has delighted and astonished me; its fierce almost overwhelming rain, the clouds which shroud the mountains; the relentlessness of autumn and winter which – just as you thought ‘I can’t take another dark, grey rainy day!’ would amaze you with a crisp blazing blue sky of a day. And then spring and the riot of flowers; the streets carpeted with pink and white pom-poms of cherry blossom, the beauty of Stanley Park. Summer, I knew I’d love summer but who knew that the days would be so long and the sunsets last for hours?

This lasted for hours every night.

This lasted for hours every night.

My view at the moment is all autumn again; the green leaves are turning rusty-auburn, candy-apple red and lemon-drop yellow. There was a dusting of snow on the mountains last week but the warm weather of the past few days has melted it away again, but oh – it’ll be back. I like to imagine myself easing into the seasonal cycle for years to come. But for that to happen I need to fill out my residency application forms and I am not the world’s best form-filler-out-er. I’ve plagued my poor lawyer’s office with what are probably achingly dim questions – and, bless them, they have been patient and helpful each and every time. It’s clear already that if I’d tried to do this alone it would never have happened so yes, a thankful shout out to Amy at Wildy Immigration who has the patience of a saint.

Fallen in love with the shimmering city by the sea

Fallen in love with the shimmering city by the sea

People often ask if I miss home and really – it’s not the place so much as the people. The time difference is a killer, after long a day, I want to curl up with a glass of wine and talk with my girlfriends on the phone and I can’t; it’s probably 3am for them. I wish I could just walk around the corner and see my friends and their kids and I miss being able to walk into my local pub and know most people there. But I’m building a life here; making good friendships and finding kindred spirits. The people that I’ve met here have made Vancouver feel like home. Fingers crossed that it really can be one day soon.

Jul 13

On my first in-Canada Canada Day…

This is why I can't stop staring out of my window at home.

This is why I can’t stop staring out of my window at home.

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.

How can you not fall in love with a city carpeted with flowers in the spring?

How can you not fall in love with a city carpeted with flowers in the spring?

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.

Even Freddie agrees...

Even Freddie agrees…

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.

Flying the flag...

Flying the flag…

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.

Apr 13

In which I’m mostly flat…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apr 13

Homesickness hits: bring on the Balti Challenge

Being British seems to make most people assume that you are a raving tea addict. When I talk about the rare times I’m homesick, Canadians imagine that I am craving oceans of Earl Grey, that I am wistfully musing about a pot of PG Tips… but nothing could be further from the truth. Home, for me, tastes of curry – Balti, to be precise. A sag aloo Balti, fragrant with spices, with just the right hit of heat, eaten with a buttery, garlic-y naan bread. Heaven. But, guess what? Turns out that they don’t have Balti in Vancouver.

Ask a curry fan about the origins of the Balti and you’re asking for a l-o-n-g drawn out debate. Is it an Anglo-Indian dish? A Pakistani one? Or is it simply a type of curry named after the shallow handled dish that it’s served in? I think that it combines elements of all those things but one thing I’m sure of is that I’m missing them like mad.

Hands down the best bhaji I've eaten in my life

Hands down the best bhaji I’ve eaten in my life

I was expecting the curry houses to be overflowing with fine Baltis; after all – Brits are everywhere here, one of the largest immigrant communities in fact – and Baltis are incredibly popular back home, but no, no Baltis at all. So I asked on Twitter if anyone knew of anywhere that might help and hurrah for the Palki restaurant who stepped up and offered to try to make my curry dream a reality.

Delighted, I headed off to Palki on Commercial Drive. Unlike many traditional British Indian restaurants, the Palki has a modern Zen-like feeling with plum-coloured walls, water features and a bright airy interior. While I was waiting for the balti to be prepared, I snacked on the best onion bhaji I’ve tasted since Naffees in Leeds in 1989. Crispy, spicy and not a doughy cake like so many are – these are reason enough to pay a visit.

Let the games commenceTheir first Balti attempt arrived and smelt heavenly – but the texture was wrong and it had too much heat. I tried to explain as best as I could what I was looking for to Sharath, the incredibly patient manager, and he disappeared off into the kitchen to discuss it with Chef Shiv Singh. Balti mark 2 arrived and although the texture was better, it was still missing something. I’ll be perfectly honest – I take my hat off to the team here for trying to create a dish that I haven’t eaten in almost 7 months, that they may not have experienced either! Chef Sigh is an experienced and talented chef from Uttar Pradesh and I love that he tried his best to whip up an Anglo-Indian creation, as explained by a British non-chef.



So – third time turned out to be the charm; not too spicy, not too hot, the perfect slow heat and texture – this was the food equivalent of Goldilocks’ ‘Just Right‘! I scooped up a judicious helping with the delicious garlic naan, and savoured the aromatic taste of home. If you’re craving a Balti, or fancy trying one, unless you can get a ticket back to Britain, this is absolutely your best bet. Sharath said that they’d be adding the Balti to their menu – I couldn’t be happier to have made a mark on the Vancouver food scene in a more spicy way.

Thanks so much to everyone for being such good sports and getting stuck into the Balti challenge – go see them & try for yourself.

I was a kind of annoying guest of Palki – who sends food back so much?! – but my views are 100% my own.

Palki Restaurant, 1130 Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC V5L 3X2

Dec 12

Three month-i-versary

So, it’s been three months since I arrived in Vancouver and so far, I’ve not regretted it for a second. Sure, there have been times when it’s been tough being so far from everyone and everything that I love, but thank goodness for Skype and social media! I get to feel like I’m still sharing in my friends’ lives and although talking on Twitter or Facebook is no substitute for sitting down with my mates, well, it’s better than waiting for weeks for an airmail letter.

How can you not just stare and stare?

How can you not just stare and stare?

Vancouver has dazzled me with its beauty. If I was smitten before, it’s a full-blown love affair now. Staring at the clouds and mountains has become my new favourite thing to do. Right next to staring at the skyline at night.

Beautiful at night, with the dazzling city and lights of Grouse Mountain twinkling

I’ve got used to the torrential rain. I’ve started to dress for downpours and have become utterly unselfconscious about stomping around in my rubber boots. I’ve taken to feasting on Kale, the leafy green brassica that’s in every Vancouverite’s shopping basket. Most importantly, I’ve started to make friends.

I made kale chips. This makes me a local, right?

Next week I move to my new apartment. Bye bye Kitsilano, hello West End. I’m so looking forward to living there and exploring another part of this gorgeous city. Small problem: it’s unfurnished and I don’t have any furniture, so, for a while it’ll be awfully minimal! But that’s just so much less to clean, right!? So, here’s to new beginnings…

Stanley Park. Turns out I moved to the end of the rainbow…

Feel inspired: Keep Exploring Canada


Sep 12

Edible Canada: because everything is better with bacon.

It’s nice when you get to see friends from home when you’re living the expat life and it’s even nicer when it’s a friend who loves food and travel as much as you do. Niamh who writes the superb (and award-winning!) Eat Like A Girl blog was out on a trip to check out the BC wine and food scene. We’d both heard about an All-Bacon take out menu, and she was just as keen as I was to check it out.


Make mine something with bacon…

Edible Canada is based on Granville Island, a great spot you can get to by way of the cute little Aquabus boats from downtown, for a fun few hours exploring craft stores and galleries, grazing at the magnificent market which is stuffed with everything from amazing artisan doughnuts to superb teas, great deli and cheese products and, of course, bars and restaurants like Edible Canada.

Can’t decide? Try the lot…

The take-out window offers a seasonal summertime menu and this time it’s a coast to coast bacon-themed one with taste influences from across the whole of Canada. As we couldn’t decide what to have, we decided to share and try the lot…

Unlike Niamh who’s famous for her bacon-infused creations like bacon fudge, Edible Canada have gone for a more bacon ON rather than a bacon IN menu; me, I’m just happy to eat it…

Just superb – the Whistle Dog

Here’s my two favourite dishes. The Whistle Dog is an ‘homage to the prairies‘, all-beef Two Rivers sausage from Alberta, in a deliciously-sweet brioche-y bun, topped with smoked Canadian cheddar from BC, bacon jam and bacon bits.

And heading across to the East Coast, to Quebec, a bacon-y Poutine, with hand-cut duck-fat fries made with potatoes from Pemberton, just north of Whistler, and then topped with cheese curds, caramelised onion, bacon and pulled-duck rillette.

Ah! Poutine with pulled duck and bacon. Yum.

Niamh and I were hosted by Edible Canada, however, my views are 100% my own.

Want to know more? Then Keep Exploring Canada!

Sep 12

It’s hard to say goodbye…

There’s something they don’t tell you about when you’re getting ready to pack up and leave for a whole new life in a whole new country. I was expecting to be anxious about leaving; worrying over what to pack, what to ship and what on earth to take to the charity shops along my road in Brighton. I was even expecting to be upset about what the flight and trauma of the journey would mean to my dog, Freddie. But I wasn’t expecting to be weeping almost all the time in my last two weeks in the UK. Everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – has set me off!

Imagine your life becoming as easy to cry at as a paralympics montage! That’s how much I’ve been sobbing. I’m so upset at the thought of leaving my friends and my family that it’s overshadowing all the reasons why I want to try my luck in Vancouver, one of the most beautiful cities on earth.

But when life gets tear-stained there’s only one solution. Go somewhere no one can see you cry… and for me that means a spa with a good steam room! So that’s exactly what I did with my best friend Emma a few days before I flew off. I’d meant to check out the new spa opening at Ockenden Manor for a while. I’d stayed there years ago – dazzling Michelin-starred food and wonderful accommodation in the heart of beautiful Sussex countryside and heard good things about the spa. We weren’t disappointed.

The spa boasts wonderful floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a quintessentially English view and – best of all – they have a swim-through indoor/outdoor pool, so Emma and I could happily splash around under the rare September sunshine before heading off to the outdoor Jacuzzi to chill under the sky.

Later, wrapped in robes, we sat on a wall and watched placid chocolate-coloured cows graze before we did the same ourselves on huge quinoa super-food salads accompanied by a glass of champagne. We’d booked in to try the Ila Kundalini back massage and I have to say it was one of the best I’ve had; totally different from the usual long, flowing strokes of a Swedish massage, this used pressure point massage and hot stones and I found myself dropping off to sleep mid-massage – always the sign of a superb treatment!

Confession: this is not at the spa, this is Emma and I in Paris. But! I was all blotchy and pink and looked terrible. You don't want a photo of that ;)

Curled up in the relaxation room later, sipping tea, laughing and chatting I realised it would be a whole year before I got to do this with Emma… and yes, there were the tears again. Time to slip back into that steam room and hide my eyes.

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