Posts Tagged: ice skating


19
Nov 14

Get Your Skates on to Victoria

It’s winter in Canada so what are you going to do but enjoy the great outdoors? This year, Victoria’s Fairmont Empress hotel is hosting an outdoor skating rink on its front lawn, which faces out towards the harbour all strung with festive lights. There is something rather magical about skating outdoors and it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful background than the Empress. Special events include a Christmas Eve skating session with elves, hot cocoa and cider and Sunday skates with santa. Tickets are $10/$5 per session and skate hire is $5. The rink opens on Friday 20th November and runs till mid-January. Open from 5-9pm weekdays and 1-9pm weekends.

So, now you’re in Victoria, what else is there to do?

wiv2BREAKFAST:  Usually I’m not a doughnut fan, but Yonni’s Doughnuts at Discovery Coffee could be the one which changes my mind. I had a Honey Crueller, all eggy sweet and delicious, it matched perfectly with their Gob’s Magical Espresso blend. I took a bottle of the Cold Brew coffee home and had it for breakfast the next morning. Sure Cold Brew coffee may have more than a whiff of needless hipsterism about it but when it’s as buttery and chocolatey as this, well, call me a hipster and be damned.

wiv1LUNCH:  Oh hurrah! My all-time favourite Vancouver sandwich, the Meat & Bread porchetta is now available at their beautiful new location on Yates Street. Taking the idea of doing one thing and then excelling at it, Meat and Bread’s empire is gradually spreading and you know what? Good. They do things right: the bread is a custom-made ciabatta roll and the meat in their legendary porchetta sandwiches is the finest grain-fed, free-range pork from Two Rivers Meats. If businesses must become chains then at least let them operate on an ethical basis. And yes, I know that Meat and Bread also do other daily sandwich specials but after two years I’ve still not managed to go through the doors and say anything other than ‘Porchetta with extra crackling, please’.

WIV6TIME FOR TEA:  Silk Road Tea are based in Victoria’s Chinatown (the oldest in Canada! Take a look around on this Vine clip.), the creation of Tea Master Daniela Cubelic. I cannot say enough great things about this store! Going far beyond what you’d imagine a tea shop to sell, Silk Road have a wide range of beauty products (and an in-shop spa), shelves of wildly desirable tea paraphernalia –try going in and not immediately needing to own at least three tea pots, infusers and assorted pieces of cocktail ware – and best of all a long tasting table with comfy stools. I went to an iced tea event in the summer which was a blast and gave me so many ideas. This winter their free-to-attend workshop events include Winter Wellness classes, a tea jam-making event and learning about immune-boosting tea blends to ward off colds and flu.

wiv4DINNER:  Sure, there are plenty of great restaurants in Victoria but right now I am OBSESSED with the ambrosial brisket at Hanks Untraditional BBQ. This place is a tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it barbecue joint but oh my, it’s worth stopping in. All the meat comes from those super-ethical Two Rivers chaps and you can taste the quality in every bite. My recommendation? Have one of the platters with the cornbread, all warm and buttery from the oven. The pulled pork is amazing and the potato salad superb. Damn, I am actually drooling just writing this.

wiv5STAY:  With Veneto, one of the finest bars and restaurants downstairs and boasting a pole position slap bang in the heart of town, it’s hard to better the location of the Rialto. The rooms are both spacious and spotless and best of all, come with a pleasing raft of extras including free wifi, vouchers for coffee and pastry from the lobby cafe, and best of all, a voucher for a cheese plate at Veneto. Very cool! Oh, and the one thing that won me over completely? Ear plugs. Acknowledging that yes, they are a central hotel and so the street can get noisy is honest, but then immediately sorting that issue out is smart. I love that.

wiv3GET THERE:  I am obsessed with the float planes which whizz across the waters here in BC. I can see them soar above Stanley Park from my window and it’s always a fantastic day if I know that I’m going to be onboard Harbour Air. My advice? Don’t hang back and be polite. Immediately ask the pilot is there’s a chance that you could sit up front, as sometimes there is a spare seat and it’s the best view in the house! If not, don’t fret, you’ll still be amazed by the view from the windows. Top tip: at the Vancouver terminal downtown you can score free espresso-based drinks and tea, as well as a muffin or fruit when you present them with your boarding pass. Also, the Victoria terminal seems to have a penchant for playing excellent 80s music. Prepare to rock out before take off.

MORE INFO:

Tourism Victoria

 

 


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


29
Jan 14

Challenge #2 Learn to Skate Like a Canadian

I started 2014 off with a splash – by leaping into the freezing cold sea at English Bay in Vancouver with a heap of other Crazy Canucks for the Polar Bear Swim – and I vowed to make this a year of fresh challenges – well, here’s my latest. This weekend I plan to skate the Rideau Canal in Canada’s capital, Ottawa. My challenge? Um, I don’t know how to skate… or rather – I didn’t, but thanks to my hero, Raymond – now I do.

My Hero, Raymond

My Hero, Raymond: he doesn’t usually wear antlers – this was his christmas special! 

It seems to me that Canadians are pretty much born with a pair of skates or skis strapped to their feet (their poor mothers!). I’ve sighed so many times over enchanting stories of my new friends’ Canadian childhoods: playing hockey out on a frozen pond, skating at home on a rink that their dad made by flooding the backyard – none of this was ever possible back in England, of course, and even skating rinks are few and far between. Not in Canada – I was amazed to discover eight beautifully maintained rinks in Vancouver and there was one just around the corner from me – and that is where Raymond skates into this story. We met last year at a Wine Festival event and once I realized I needed to learn to skate, then I knew he was my guy: an ex figure skater and now heading up the teaching programme at the busy Denman Street rink, I couldn’t have asked for anyone better. 

Never would have believed I could do this! Thanks Raymond

Never would have believed I could do this! Thanks Raymond

I was terrified even lacing the skates up; all I could think of was falling and hurting myself. Bambi-like I wobbled onto the ice but accompanied by Raymond (and some pretty cool Lorde tracks) it all felt slightly less terrifying.That was five weeks ago and since then I’ve practiced, learned how to stop, fallen over and – crucially – worked out how to get up again. Just after Christmas I splurged and bought my own skates and last week I went for a truly joyful glide around the outdoor rink in Whistler. I may not be skating like a Canadian yet, but I’m giving it my best shot: Ottawa: here I come.

 

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