Vancouver

Vancouver in 3 Days… Ready, Steady, Go!

Running Race

Our friends are coming to visit in July, just staying for 3 days before they take the train over the mountains to Calgary and on to Toronto.  It’s their first trip across The Pond, so the whole family got together to produce our list of What You Need To See In Vancouver In 3 Days.  Here is the email we sent them:

“I chatted with the girls about what they think is essential to get a flavour of Vancouver in 3.5 days, and we all agree that Mountains, Sea, Stanley Park and Granville Market need to be on the list. One thing you need to know about Vancouver is the city centre itself is very small (you can walk across the main part in half an hour).  The areas to the east (anything east of Gastown) are pretty run down, and not the best for visitors if you want to see the pretty parts.  The city is very young, and most people live here because it’s a good place to reach the sea and the mountains.  So, compared to Europe, art galleries, history, architecture (except modern) and shopping are not what you come for.  Vancouver is all about amazing views, friendly (and occasionally high) people, wonderful food, multicultural harmony and incredible wildlife.

The tour bus is a great idea for your first afternoon, and the hop-on, hop-off buses and trolley buses have stops near most downtown hotels.  I checked the route map for the trolley bus to see what it covers, and we’d suggest you hop off at Canada Place and walk to the end for the view, then if you still need to stretch your legs, walk along the sea wall past the Olympic Cauldron to the Westin Bayshore, then hop on and hop off again at the Aquarium which is stunning and has Beluga Whales.  The rest of the tour takes you round Stanley Park, across to Granville Island and into the Eastside (see previous comments – stay on the bus), but we love the Old Spaghetti Factory in Gastown, and you can walk back through the city if your hotel is near enough, after the obligatory picture of the Gastown Steam Clock.

On your first full day, try Capilano Suspension Bridge and Grouse Mountain, if you feel up to it and if the weather is OK (the views on a clear day are amazing).  Come back via Lonsdale Market for dinner and catch the Seabus back to Waterfront.  Most people find the jet lag means you are up way too early, and exhausted by 3pm, so plan early starts and it’s best to keep the afternoon flexible for the first few days.  Next day, try Granville Island market which means going to Science World and taking the little water ferry down to the market, then across to English Bay for some beach time, or walk from the market round Vanier Park.  You can even continue round to Kitsilano for dinner on the beach.  Then, we recommend a whale-watching tour – Prince of Whales (ouch, bad pun) leaves from the Vancouver waterfront but we went with Seabreeze and they have a shuttle to pick you up from the hotel.  It’s not cheap, but the islands are so beautiful and you are pretty much guaranteed to see killer whales, sea lions and maybe humpback whales and porpoises.  If not that, then a shorter harbour cruise or a kayak tour, or even a stand up paddleboarding lesson.

The Aquarium, tour bus, Grouse Mountain, Capilano and whale tours are all pricey, and if your budget is limited, we know free alternatives to all of them.”

So that is our best option for the Tourist 3-Day Package.  But how about the Potential Immigrant 3-Day Package? Or the Doing Vancouver On A Budget 3-Day Package?  What are your best suggestions?  What did we miss out?

January – It’s A Trap, and Resolutions Doubly So

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“It’s a Trap!” shouted Admiral Ackbar in Star Wars, and that’s just what I feel like doing every time I hear another person talk about their New Year Resolution to lose weight, do more exercise, achieve healthy living, cut out the sweet stuff, detox, give up drinking or smoking.  I mean, seriously, people, IT’S JANUARY FFS.  The month of the Worst Day Of The Year, Blue Monday*.

 

Here’s a bit of free advice.  Make your “good” resolutions in January – I will be more generous, I will volunteer more, I will be 100% present when listening to my children and partner etc etc.  Then you can sit on the sofa, in front of a roaring fire, eating chocolate, drinking wine and making lists of the great stuff you want to do.  Wait until the sun starts thinking about coming out, and you can see the summer approaching before you inflict real discipline on yourself.  It’s depressing enough at this time of year without guilt and failure to add to the mix.  Be kind to yourself.

Here’s some more good ideas from around the internet to feel better without making resolutions you will fail to achieve:

  • When it stops raining, go for a walk.  The fresh air feels so good.
  • Take an umbrella and walk in the rain, and jump in puddles.
  • Eat healthy stuff, homecooked if you can manage it.  That doesn’t mean low calorie, or nasty processed food, it means lovely rich stews with green vegetables and dumplings, crispy baked potatoes, soups – real warming stuff.
  • Get a daylight bulb and take Vitamin D to conquer the blues.
  • Talk to someone if you can’t shake the glooms.  You may not realize how bad it is until you talk about it, or it may help to just have a moan.
  • Book some fun.  Put it in the calendar – silly game night with friends, cinema trips, meals out, days out.  Even if you don’t feel like it, go.
  • Watch silly movies and shows to make you laugh and smile.  Then spread it by smiling at someone else.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Treat your hair, hands and skin well.
  • If you can, get high.  Up a mountain, that is.  On a gray day, it there might even be bright sunshine up there.  If it’s not, there is at least clear air.

 

 

*I love the fact that the Wikipedia entry on Blue Monday explains that this was all a load of bunk, but it feels right.  Allegedly, the date was calculated by using many factors, including: weather conditions, debt level (the difference between debt accumulated and our ability to pay), time since Christmas, time since failing our new year’s resolutions, low motivational levels and feeling of a need to take action.  Since the announcement in 2005 the date has been around January 23rd, but this year it got changed to January 6th, which doesn’t work for me.  On January 6th you are still pretty convinced you can manage your resolutions, on a sugar high from Christmas, haven’t broken your gifts yet, and probably haven’t received your credit card statement.  January 23rd 2014, however, is a Wednesday – pretty depressing all by itself, but on top of that, it’s ages until the next public holiday, it’s time to pay that credit card bill, the weather sucks and you are really, really sick of your diet, you’ve missed the gym for a week and feel like all you really need is a glass of wine, a cigarette and a box of chocolates.

The Best Weekend Of The Year

Canada Day

I have decided that this is the best weekend of the year.  Better than Halloween, better than Christmas, better than my birthday.  This is the weekend of:

  • School Is Out!
  • The Sun Is Coming!
  • Unexpected Holiday!
  • Endless possibilities abound….!

The first year we lived in Canada, we were horrified at the thought of nearly 10 weeks of summer holiday.  How is anyone expected to manage a full time job and afford childcare for that length of time?  The following year we booked every child into every camp possible, and they went back to school in September more tired than they had been in June.  Now we are seasoned, experienced, and almost Canadian.  It helps that our children are old enough to babysit each other, and had been studying karate long enough to inflict discipline on each other without too much real injury.  The prospect of watching them spend the hot months chilling, cycling, swimming and doing what kids are supposed to do (“Stop that, put it down, you don’t know where it’s been, NOW look what you did to your new sandals…”), is just bliss.

Recently we shared a picture on Facebook.  This is what the start of our summer has been like, but it is still better than Juneuary last year, when we were still wrapped in our polar outfits and snow boots, and at least we are not underwater like parts of Alberta.  Summer

This year the rain has meant that everything I planted in the garden, and many things I did not plant (we have an Accidental Pumpkin patch in the area where I spread my home made compost.  I forgot I had put all 7 Halloween pumpkins with their seeds in the compost last November), are growing, and the time of sitting and appreciating the growth, with a little light harvesting, weeding and reseeding, has arrived.  July and August are generally scorching, and the amount of ground water means I may not have to water the lawn or beds for some time.

The Unexpected Holiday is Canada Day.  You don’t realize until you move from the UK how your body has become attuned to the seasons with their high days and Bank Holidays.  I feel a little wrench at the beginning of May when I realize that it’s Spring Bank Holiday, but I am at work.  But that is completely overwhelmed, when you have been dragging yourself and your children to the end of the school year (“Just 3 more days… just one more teacher gift… just one more awards ceremony… I really don’t care where your planner or lunch box have gone, you only have 2 more days at school…”), when you realize that it’s Canada Day Weekend!  Break out the wine and the barbeque!

And now the endless possibilities… tomorrow I am going to load my grumbling husband and happy dog into the car and drive away.  I will leave a note for the children, which will say “Your parents have run away.  You must solve the clues and find them or your college funds are in jeopardy.”  There will be clues to lead them to the Skytrain, along the waterfront, into Stanley Park and round the seawall.  A real adventure to start the holiday, with a picnic and ice cream at the end.   Later in the holiday we will go berry picking, camping, climb the Stawamish Chief, explore Simon Fraser University campus, shop for new school supplies and clothes and backpacks, paint the shed, create a mural of salmon on the wall of the house that faces the salmon creek – or do none of the above.  The kids will play in the street with other kids, and we’ll dish out freezies, After Bite and bandaids in equal quantities.  Before we know it, we will be back in school and greeting our old friends, and loving the run up to Halloween and Christmas!

freezies

You gotta love a Freezie on a hot day!

Springtime in Vancouver

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Spring sneaks into Vancouver.  You’ve got your head down, and your shoulders hunched and your hood up, when you suddenly look up and realize that the sun is shining, and Spring has ARRIVED!

For the last few days I have been working downtown, and there is nothing more beautiful, in my experience, than Vancouver in Spring sunshine.  I catch the Skytrain through New Westminster, along the huge slow Fraser River, into the bustle of Metrotown and out again, beside the peaceful parks and cycle paths.  As we reach Vancouver, the sun glints off the glass towers, the new leaves and the waves out on the water.  I stare at the new Community Garden which has sprung up on an abandoned parking lot near Science World – raised beds which a month ago were barely filled with soil, now a patchwork of shades of green .  The grass and wildflower roof of the Convention Centre is dazzling and busy with the bees from the Centre’s own hives.  The snow on the mountains, which look so close on a clear day, is almost too bright to look at.

I find myself running late for meetings as I am distracted by all the new cleanness around me.  Buildings and signs and people I have ignored over the winter are suddenly too bright and interesting not to stop and watch.  This is a city where people take cherry blossom very seriously; so seriously that it is a weekend and evening pastime to go for a Japanese-style Cherry Blossom walk.

I return home and sit in my garden, chatting to neighbours we haven’t seen since October – everyone is suddenly obsessed with gardening, everyone is growing something, even if it is just a lawn, and we compare notes and growing tips.  A queue of hummingbirds at the feeders, surprisingly noisy as they get into fights; apparently queue-jumpers exist everywhere.  We cannot wait for the full summer to arrive!  Welcome to Spring!

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For the love of Grannies….

Two Grans

Gran Nicol and Gran Howcroft circa 1966

Today would have been my Gran Nicol’s 97th Birthday.  She died in 2011, (see this post), but her influence and that of her long term friend and rival, Gran Howcroft, is with me forever.

I was truly blessed with 2 strong, loving, intelligent and occasionally eccentric grandmothers, and 3 wonderful grandfathers.  While we were children, Gran Nicol was definitely front-runner in the Best Gran Stakes.  She lived in a seaside town, with a sandy beach, ice cream stands, plastic buckets and spades and wonderful promenade lights in the summer.  The houses were large and comfortable, and near to the rest of the family – a strange collection of elderly spinster aunts ruled over by our great grandmother and great grandfather, who loved to buy us bubble mixture and challenge us to catch the bubbles, blow bigger ones, land them on our noses – wonderful, loving and fun people.  Gran once explained her expanding waistline by saying that a real grandmother should be cuddly, “not like that bony old thing over in Surrey.”

That bony old thing was Gran Howcroft – tall, strong, loud and opinionated (think Julia Child and Barbara Woodhouse combined).  She was a professional artist, avid gardener, tennis and badminton player.  Into her 80s she was a volunteer with Meals On Wheels, delivering meals to people younger than herself, despite being a terror behind the wheel of her car.  Visits to her house were fraught with danger.  She kept dogs and vicious, anti-social cats, and the house was coated in pet hair.  Food was frequently out of date, so poisoning was a constant risk.  She made no concessions to small children, so there were no toys or games but we were permitted to play gently and quietly with a dolls house, and she made sure there was a new piece whenever we visited.  There were also a number of beautiful puzzle boxes – souvenirs from her travels with The Penguin (Grandad Howcroft).

As I approached teenage, Gran Nicol moved from the seaside town to our neighbourhood.  Although I missed the holidays, she was available as I transitioned to high school and became a difficult teen.  She patiently listened to my angry rants, fed me coffee cake, drove me home when I had missed the bus.  She introduced me to the therapeutic benefits of gardening, she told me I was beautiful when I was at my most awkward and she pushed me to push myself academically.  At the same time, Gran Howcroft came into her own as a guide and mentor.  She could discuss current affairs and art, challenge me to think critically and she demanded that I exceed my own expectations.

A few days ago, I was chatting to a friend who is a Grandmother.  Her grandchildren live in Munich and she was describing how she sends them letters and parcels at least once a week, misses them desperately, but visits at least once a year.  One of the most common worries we hear from new expats, and one of the reasons an emigration may not “stick” is the draw that family has; you truly may not miss them until they are out of reach.  North America is a good place to find people in a similar situation, however.  Families are often separated by thousands of miles, seeing each other once or twice a year for busy family holidays.  The Great Canadian Roadtrip is often a result of children moving away, across the whole continent, and discovering that the cheapest way of visiting Grandma and Grandad for Thanksgiving is to drive there.  I remembered that, when I moved from home to college and then onward, my Grandmothers were great letter writers.  They wrote about real issues; faith, careers, education, relationships and family.  Gran Nicol, in particular, took upon herself the responsibility of ensuring that all her grandchildren were always up to date on the news from other branches of the family; she held us together and kept the family close, even when we were scattered around the country and, eventually, the globe.  We spent much of our married life away from our close families, and our children had little opportunity to get to know their grandparents well, but they always knew who they were, even as babies.  It seems that distance does not need to affect family.  You can still be the Best Gran (or Grandad), you can still spoil your grandchildren, you can still tell them you love them through email, Skype, You Tube, Twitter, letter… Take the time to keep in touch, take an interest in their interests, and never assume that your views and opinions are not relevant.  Even the smallest contact is important when distance is involved.

“To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.” Phyllis Theroux

A Walk On The Not-So-Wild Side

lassie

We live very close to Burnaby Mountain, and we can walk to the trails that run all over the Mountain, all the way to Simon Fraser University if you like to go that far.  I took the dog for a walk on the trails the other day, and she wasn’t very willing to accompany me at one point.  I wondered if this was a Lassie moment.  Is she trying to tell me something?  A bear, Lassie?  A cougar? Or was she just objecting to the light drizzle, the increasing distance from her bed and the fact that if we use that trail, she’ll get her paws muddy?

I know I have mentioned before, probably very often, like a really boring guest at a dinner party, the bear that got into the compost bins the summer we moved here.  Then there were the reports of bob cats, cougar, lynx, and of course the coyotes, skunk and raccoons that constantly threaten our dustbins.  I am thrilled that we live in such a wild environment, and we have done everything to learn how to deal with meeting a bear, beating off a cougar or getting rid of skunk-stink, but the bottom line is that, although I am very happy they are there, I would rather the wild stayed over there.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not that crazy lady from Over The Hedge, with the security lasers, alarms and Depelter 3000.  I’m not trying to keep them away, and I am excited that my parents have had a close encounter with a bear at Whistler, that we have seen wild orcas hunting in the Straits, that the seals love chasing the Dragon Boats in False Creek, and that I occasionally get a glimpse of a solemn family of raccoons, lined up by the road.  But I’m not going looking for them.  If the wild chooses to stay away from me, I’ll return the favour and leave the critters well alone, and I know it disappoints my father in law that the Wild is not lined up by the road waving little flags to welcome him to Vancouver, but I think I know why.  It’s the reason we moved here in the first place – it’s Space.  Not the vast, dark, “to boldly go where no one..” etc Space, but the huge, rolling, wonderful regions of the completely uninhabited and uninhabitable space beyond where we are.  It means that birds do not rely on my bird feeder, hanging forlornly in the garden with no customers.  It means the squirrels couldn’t give 2 squirrel-squeaks that my bird feeder is not squirrel-proof.  It means that the wild animals can choose our company, or not, and if we are careful to avoid tempting them into our garbage, they will stay safely away and I will know they are there, but not see them.  That seems fair.