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VIDEO: Highlights of the Northern Oregon Coast

The Oregon Coast is my absolute happy place. The whole state is ridiculously amazing and we had a fantastic time exploring the Columbia River Gorge, Bend and Crater Lake last summer, but something about the coast always makes me feel like I’m coming home. The goonies-loving man says that Astoria in particular is his ‘spiritual home’ and getting out of the car at Rogue Brewery is when I know I’m really on vacation.

This year was our fifth consecutive BC Day long weekend trip to Oregon (sorry, BC) and we packed a lot into the three full days we had there. This particular trip was a mix of some of our favourite places (Astoria, Cannon Beach, Ecola State Park, Oswald West State Park, Cape Meares, Oceanside) and some new places too (Netarts Bay, Anderson’s Viewpoint, the top of the sand dune at Cape Kiwanda). As we only had three days we stuck to the Northern towns and split our time between the Hearthstone Inn at Cannon Beach and an Airbnb in Netarts Bay.

I decided to play videographer on this trip, partly to test out the video capabilities of my new iPhone 6S. It turns out the footage is scarily better than our previous videos using our little kodak camera (that I forgot on this trip). So that’s good to know. I love documenting snapshots in time through photo and video and before making this I watched a number of our older videos including our group trip to Hawaii, our first ever Christmas in Canada and our first year with Dave. It was a really fun and moving half hour or so, and I may have shed more than one happy tear looking back on some amazing memories.

So here’s another one to add to the list. I was videographer, director and producer for this one, which means I only actually make an appearance in front of the camera twice. However, if you like boston terriers, bearded men and beaches then please enjoy this Marmite to Maple production: Oregonna Make A Great Movie (tagline by James).

Talking about the Oregon coast is one of my favourite things in the world, so if you have any questions or are looking for trip planning advice, get in touch.

Canada Day: Car-Free Mayne Island

The annual BC summer cabin weekend has become a fun tradition for the man, my brother, his girlfriend and I. 2014 was Bowen Island, 2015 was Galiano Island and this year we decided to stick with the Gulf Islands theme and head to neighbouring Mayne Island. Canada Day fell on a Friday this year, so we took the opportunity to book an afternoon ferry and get an early start to the weekend.

We went without a car to keep costs down so all of our exploring was on foot. We’d read that hitchhiking is common on the island and that locals will often offer tourists a ride to their accommodation from the ferry, and were very happy when that happened to us and we didn’t have to walk the 20 minutes uphill to our cabin. Unfortunately it turned out that the cabin was a two-minute walk rather than a 20-minute walk (thanks Google Maps), and it getting all of us plus luggage in and out of the car was way more exhausting than the short walk would have been. Regardless, we were happy to be settled into our awesome cabin with three bedrooms, a living comfy area, a full kitchen and an obscene number of decks. Airbnb for the win.

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Our awesome cabin

We spent Friday night relaxing at the cabin and got up on Saturday ready to explore the island. As previously mentioned, all exploring was to be done without a car. We’d read that the main town area, Miners Bay, was about a 20-minute walk from the cabin so we headed out in search of coffee and groceries. It felt longer than 20 minutes and we rewarded ourselves with drinks at the pretty Shavasana Cafe, lunch from Sunny Mayne Bakery Cafe and some groceries, beer and cider from The Trading Post. We weren’t keen on walking all the way back with our bags so hung out at the designated hitchhiking ‘car stop’ until another friendly local picked us up. It was another tight squeeze (this time around a car seat) but we were happy for the ride.

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Off to explore

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Shavasana Coffee/Gallery

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The view from the garden of Shavasana Coffee

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Canada Day at Sunny Mayne Bakery

Back at the cabin we loaded up our cooler bags for island exploration part two: the beach. We looked at the map and Dinner Bay seemed like the closest option. This time, it really was only a 20-minute walk (though mostly uphill) and we settled down on the pebble beach. The rapidly rising tide and army of ants meant we didn’t stay long, but it was nice to see some of the island.

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Canada Day decorations

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This way to the beach

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Dinner Bay

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The view from my towel

Usually when we go away we’ll spend most of the weekend BBQ-ing everything in sight, but this cabin didn’t have a BBQ. Instead, we decided to go out for dinner to try the main restaurant on the island, The Groove Island Kitchen, and timed our walk with the traffic coming off the ferry so that we could hitch another ride. We got the last table on the patio, and although the restaurant was out of burgers (outrageous…) we all enjoyed our meals. We did end up walking home, but it went pretty quickly after we found a shortcut through the trees from the main road to the back of our cabin. Success!

Sunday was another lazy day as we were lucky enough to be able to stay in the cabin until our late afternoon ferry. It was a hot one, so we made our own fun with a hosepipe and stints on the sofa cooling off. The views from the ferry on the way back to Tsawwassen were particularly stunning and were a great sales pitch for coming back to visit another one of the Gulf Islands next year.

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More info about Mayne Island can be found here at Hello BC.

Cabin Fever: A spontaneous night in Anacortes

The May long weekend is the same weekend every year, but somehow it always seems to creep up on me. This year I forgot about it until a couple of weeks before, when a panicked Air BnB search revealed exactly two available pet-friendly properties within a reasonable distance and budget. Unfortunately they were both on the sunshine coast and the BC Ferries reservation system only showed how organized everyone else was at booking ferries in advance. Not helpful.

We decided to embrace our non-existent travel options and stay at home for a relaxing weekend in the city. After all, we’re supposed to be cutting back on trips this year and saving for the wedding. That’s what I told myself when I redid my Air BnB search just a few days before the weekend and this time came up with zero properties (didn’t fancy a trailer in a barn on Salt Spring Island).

Saturday morning came, and I decided that the man and I should write lists of possible things to do and then compare and come up with a super list to get us through the weekend. This exercise started well and we did enjoy some delicious Saturday night craft cocktails at Long Table Distillery, a gin and vodka tasting room a few blocks away that I’d never been to. Unfortunately this didn’t quite hit the spot, and we ended up doing another last minute search for a Sunday night getaway, this time on Hotels.com. I broadened my search to include the States and up popped Anacortes, a little harbour town in Western Washington that is known for being the launch point for ferries to the San Juan Islands. Google Maps said it was two hours away, TripAdvisor said there were some nice parks and viewpoints, Yelp said there was a decent coffee shop and a brewery and Hotels.com said there was a pet-friendly hotel right in the middle of the historic downtown. Done, done, done and done.

Anacortes turned out to be the perfect destination for a one-night getaway. It actually took closer to three hours to get there (apparently the rest of Vancouver decided to head down to the border at the same time as us) but we’d somehow left on time for once so weren’t in any rush. We stayed at the gorgeous Majestic Inn and Spa where we were given freshly ground coffee and a complimentary dog goodie bag on arrival. We saw and did a surprising amount in 24 hours and my highlights are below.

Washington Park

Washington Park is a bit like a much smaller version of Vancouver’s Stanley Park. It juts out on the end of the peninsula and is just a 10 minute drive from Downtown Anacortes. We parked in the day use area and walked the tree-lined, 2-mile loop road around the outside of the park (you can drive it, but the sun was out and it’s an easy walk). We took the opportunity to explore some of the trails that branched off the main road and the spectacular views of the San Juan Islands made up for the very confusing, completely unmarked trails. Dogs are welcome on a leash and Dave very much enjoyed his walk.

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La Merced

While I was driving us to Washington Park, James saw what looked like a huge old ship growing out of the ground and sprouting trees. On the way back we took a number of very sketchy tracks down to the marina before finding what actually was a huge old ship that was practically growing out of the ground and definitely sprouting trees. A local drinking beer on the marina’s tiny beach told us that the La Merced was a Schooner that ran aground in the 1970s and was salvaged by the Croatian owners of the marina. They filled it with sand and turned it into their breakwater. It was pretty spooky looking and worth the abrupt roadside stop.

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The Brown Lantern Ale House

The downside of travelling with a dog during spring is that it’s rarely warm enough to eat outside and be 100% comfortable. We got very lucky on this trip as we found a pub with a pet-friendly, heated beer garden that was so good we went for both lunch and dinner. Dinner was a particularly awesome experience full of unexpected local flavour. From the excitable man who greeted us with ‘Oh you’re English? What’s the difference between afters and dessert?’ and the inebriated lady spending the night in a wheelchair after losing a dare to the woman who tried to prove James can look good in a hat (she failed) and the guy who whipped out a parrot from under his hoodie after half an hour of conversation, it was one of the most welcoming places I’ve ever been. The deep fried mac and cheese wedges weren’t half bad either.

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Cap Sante Viewpoint

This little viewpoint is a 5 minute drive out of the historic district and gave us a great view of Anacortes. This is where most of the pictures of Anacortes that are on postcards and guidebooks were taken, so it was fun to see that in person. You don’t even need to get out of the car to see the view if you don’t want to, though I recommend a quick climb on the rocks.

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Deception Pass Bridge

Deception Pass State Park is only 20 minutes from Anacortes and was highly recommended on TripAdvisor, however we didn’t have enough time to explore to justify the $20 entry fee. Instead, we stuck to the highway and drove through the middle of the park to see what is actually two bridges that connect Fidalgo Island (where Anacortes is – not technically an island) with Whidbey Island. There is a little island right in the middle with free parking and a viewpoint with a plaque explaining how Capt. George Vancouver ‘discovered’ and named the area (he gets around). Here you can take the steps down and under the bridge, or walk across if you’re not terrified of heights and/or carrying a squirming Boston Terrier.

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Mount Eerie

The final sight on our list was the top of Mount Eerie, another easy to access viewpoint with a road running right up to the top (you can also hike up from the bottom if you’re feeling energetic). The views were stunning and the windy drive up the switchbacks was well worth the 10 minute detour on the way back from Deception Pass.

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Even though we were only in Anacortes for 24 hours, we did and saw a lot and felt like we were on a proper vacation. I’m a particularly intense travel planner, so for me there’s something so special about a spontaneous, last-minute trip where everything just falls into place. I would almost go as far as to say I enjoyed this get away more than our trip to California in April (no tattoos this time though). It was the perfect way to spend a long weekend.

Sun, Sand and Vacation Tattoos

I definitely have two sides to my personality. One side is incredibly organized, always plans ahead and won’t go anywhere or do anything without reading reviews on both TripAdvisor and Yelp (and then cross-referencing the two). The other side is spontaneous and impulsive and likes to annoy the first side by doing things like making irresponsible expensive purchases, going skydiving and getting vacation tattoos….apparently.

The few weeks after getting my first tattoo last year were pretty much solely devoted to planning my next one, and the one after that, and the one after that. I decided not to book anything (I’ve learned to recognize when I should ignore the spontaneous side) and the moment passed. 13 months later, I still had only the one tattoo. Then I went on vacation to Southern California.

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Hermosa Beach, my tatto-spiration!

On our last night in Hermosa Beach, the man and I went out for some late night drinks in an awesome ‘locals’ bar, and half a cider later I’d decided that I needed to have the outline of a wave etched into my left rib. The tattoo on my wrist features the city and the mountains so something representing the beach could be seen as a natural and logical addition, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what I was thinking. I honestly can’t remember how I ended up reading Yelp reviews of tattoo shops, but there we were at Hermosa Ink & Apparel just after their 11am opening time the following morning.

It was here that my commitment to spontaneity started to waiver slightly. We arrived at the store literally seconds behind another customer (she held the door open for me) who was going in to book an appointment for a later date, but ended up deciding to have her tattoo done there and then. This meant it would be a 45 minute wait for us. I initially said no and left in a mini-strop, angry that I hadn’t listened to the organized side of my personality which told me to get there at 11am on the dot. Instead, the spontaneous side suggested we go for a walk on the beach, making us 2 seconds later than the other girl and potentially meaning that we wouldn’t have time to get the tattoo because we were supposed to be in Santa Barbara by lunch. Maybe it was a sign that this wasn’t meant to be? The man convinced me that there are no such things as signs (and there aren’t, unless I want there to be) and that Santa Barbara would still be there an hour later, so I went back in and booked my appointment for 12pm. That gave us half an hour to sit in the bar next door and practice drawing a wave. It’s harder than it sounds. Luckily, the tattoo artist, Olivia, was infinitely better at drawing than I am (of course) so nothing I drew ended up anywhere near getting permanently inked on my body.

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The result!

Olivia was great and it was a very quick tattoo. It hurt more than the one on my wrist, which I was expecting with my ribs, but it was over much quicker. It lasted just long enough for the man to decide that he wanted in on the vacation tattoo bandwagon too! I thought this display of spontaneity was a little excessive, partly because this was his first tattoo and mostly because it was on his hand! Before I could feel guilty for peer pressuring him into it, his was finished too and he absolutely loved it.

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Weirdly enough, we both got water themed tattoos, though in NO way was this one of those ‘couples’ tattoo things. Saying that, I will always think of Hermosa Beach and of him whenever I look at my left rib, which is kind of cool.

Three weeks on, I still love my little wave. The main reason that this tattoo was an easy decision for me is that it’s always covered up, so I’ve barely seen it since it was done. I learned last time that a placement of a tattoo is important not because of what others might think when they see it, but what YOU might think when you see it. I cannot escape my wrist tattoo, which was incredibly overwhelming when I was first getting used to it. It is always in the corner of my eye. Luckily I still like it, but it taught me a lesson that even my spontaneous side will never forget. This time I didn’t have that concern as I’ll only see it when wearing a bikini (when my tattoo will be the least of my worries), so in the words of half-a-cider-Lizzie, ‘why not?’

Joffre Lakes: Winter Wonderland

As far as Easter weekends go, this one has been pretty awesome. Last week I was given the option to work later hours in exchange for Easter Monday off, and I jumped at the chance. Four-day weekends are what dreams are made of. The first thing I did was check Air BnB to see if there were any last minute bargains to be had, but there wasn’t a single pet friendly apartment or cabin available within 2 hours drive of Vancouver. Staycationing turned out to be a better choice as we had a good mix of relaxation, day trips and eating chocolate (mostly me). The sunshine and blue skies didn’t hurt either.

We decided to spend today, our final day off, in Pemberton and Whistler. We spent quite a bit of time on the sea-to-sky highway for various events and parent visits last summer and we’ve chosen a venue in Pemberton for our wedding next year. We’ve enjoyed getting to know the area more (outside of the Whistler lift lines and village bars) and look forward to any opportunity to jump in a car and explore some more. One of our favourite spots is the stunning turquoise (dog friendly) waters of Joffre Lakes, so we decided to go back and see what the Lakes are like in the snow.

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Me at the Upper Lake on a foggy (but much warmer) September day.

When I first thought of this last night, I was assuming the park would look very similar to last time we were there in September, but with blue skies instead of grey clouds. I thought it would be fun if there was some snow on the ground, but didn’t think there would be much left at the end of March. Turns out I massively underestimated the altitude of the Lakes. It was lucky I checked some recent instagram pictures before we left and packed some rain boots and snow pants, just in case.

The majority of the summer parking lot was under almost a car’s height of snow. I know this because a the top of a very lonely minivan was peeking out of a snow drift, driver door open and all of the windows smashed in. It’s owner must have had quite the surprise when they returned from their extended hike. We parked in the small plowed section by the entrance.

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IMG_4770The snow on the trail itself was hard packed but very slippery and not at all Hunter appropriate. Luckily we were only planning on walking the 200m to the First Lake, because we wouldn’t have gotten any further without snowshoes. When we got to the end of the trail, there wasn’t a spot of turquoise in sight. The whole lake was frozen over like some kind of Disney-esque Winter Wonderland. The sun was blindingly bright, to the point of discomfort. The whole scene was one of the most Canadian things I’ve ever seen.

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I had this sudden urge to run right into the middle of the lake but the man wasn’t having any of it, even when I showed him the footprints leading all the way across to the other side (no holes in sight). We settled on a few metres in, enough to be standing on top of ice and not soil. When I was done pretending to be an ice princess, we walked along the edge of the lake for a bit to get some more pictures. I proved yet again to be one of the most uncoordinated human beings on the planet as I stepped in all the wrong places and ended up hip deep in show on more than one occasion. Oh to be a 22lb Boston Terrier who just skips over the top of snow drifts without even making a dent. It was worth it just to get to be in the snow again, and in the baking hot sunshine.

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Joffre Lakes is 30 minutes north of Pemberton (2hrs 30mins north of Vancouver) and well worth the trip. We broke up our drive today with coffee on the patio at Nita Lake Lodge, Whistler Creekside, and a round-trip hike from Nairn Falls to One Mile Lake, just before Pemberton. We were planning on getting a late lunch in Pemberton after our fun in the snow, but Mile One Eating House was closed for Easter Monday so we continued on to Whistler. The Village was packed with apres-skiers but we managed to find a table on a sunny patio with a great view of the slope. Perfect spot for a burger. I even managed a quick trip to Rocky Mountain Chocolate Company to get some buy-one-get-one-free Easter treats, that I’m about to tuck into. All of these stops were dog-friendly (except Rocky Mountain) which was a great Easter bonus.

I hope you all had a fantastic Easter, hopefully filled with sunshine and chocolate too!

 

New Year, New Vacation Plan

January and I have never really gotten along. My birthday is 11 days before Christmas, so December has always had double the excitement and celebrations than if I was born in any other month of the year. I’ve travelled somewhere for the last five Christmases (back to England and also to the winter wonderland that is Mount Baker) which just makes coming home and facing January that much harder. Every year I swear that I’m going to book a trip at the end of January, just so I have something to look forward to. Every year I then realize that I have in fact spent all of my money on December. So every year starts with a blank calendar and an empty bank account. Turns out January isn’t for vacations, it’s for vacation planning.

In case you didn’t already know, I really, really like planning vacations. A trip just wouldn’t be as fun without the weeks (or months) of anticipation and preparation leading up to it.  I generally always have something to look forward to, which is why January 2016 threw me a little bit.

The big wedding savings plan begins this month (date is set for August 2017, yay!), and I’m trying this radical new thing of only spending money that I have instead of putting vacations on credit cards. This means that most of the new places I wanted to go this year (Kauai, Costa Rica, Cuba) are now out of budget. It also means I’ll hopefully have an amazing honeymoon to look forward to at the end of next year, so I can skip the more exotic destinations this year. After a month of panicking about having nothing booked, we talked about what we really enjoy doing on vacation. Turns out, we’ve already been to some pretty amazing places that we’d like to see again. So this year’s vacation plan looks a little like this:

March – Mount Baker

Technically, this is the one trip that’s to somewhere new. We’ve been to the Mount Baker area for Christmas for the past three years, but never actually made it to the mountain (though we got really, really close in 2015). We’re heading up with friends for a ski weekend in March and I can’t wait! The chairlifts at Mount Baker don’t have safety bars, so fingers crossed I survive and make it through the rest of this list. 

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The closest to Mount Baker I’ve been so far. Can’t wait to change that next month!

March – Seattle

I really, really, really loved my last trip to Seattle. We broke out of downtown and spent most of our weekend in the breweries, bars and coffee shops of Capitol Hill and Ballard. We’re going to go back and do it over again in March, this time with our amazing best friends and former Hawaii travel companions. We haven’t been away together since that trip in February 2012, and I can’t wait to go be hipsters together.

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Downtown Seattle from Capitol Hill

April – California Coast

After uming and ahing over where to go in the spring, we booked an extra long weekend in California that includes all of our favourite things: driving, the beach and small towns with great coffee. We’re staying in Hermosa Beach for three nights and then driving up to Santa Barbara for our final night (new destination!). I stopped by Hermosa Beach on a post-Coachella road-trip last year and loved it so much that I decided I was going to move there for three months this summer. Little did I know I was about to get engaged and start saving for a wedding, so that didn’t happen. But three nights is better than nothing!

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A cloudy (but warm!) Hermosa Beach on my Coachella 2015 trip!

August – Oregon Coast

Speaking of driving, the beach and small towns with great coffee…we’re heading back to Oregon for our August long weekend tradition. Last year we headed inland along the Columbia River Gorge and down to Bend which was so much fun, but this year I am dying to get back the coast to this stunning view:

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Take me back!

December – New York

Our first vacation together was to New York in December 2008, and we’ve been talking about going back for a couple of years now. Eight years later we’re so much better at vacations. We know what we like to do (eat food), where we like to go (neighbourhoods outside of downtown) and what kind of activities we like to do (food again). Our last trip was amazing but I think that we’d have a very different experience this time. And I never did get to ice skate in Central Park.

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Posing in a very snowy Central Park (so snowy the ice rink closed)

There it is. A year of going back to places we know and love, just with a different spin. And now I can get back to my 18 months of honeymoon planning…

From Peak 2 Peak and then some: The changing faces of Whistler Blackcomb

The Whistler Blackcomb Peak 2 Peak gondola has become the new Grouse Mountain lumberjack show. Remember the summer of 2011 when I had friends and family visiting so often I watched that show four times in six weeks? This year I’ve been lucky enough to have my parents and in-laws visiting within a week of each other, so naturally we’ve done some of the same activities twice. Throw in an engagement-moon weekend in late July and Whistler and the Peak 2 Peak (the longest and highest lift in the world, connecting Whistler and Blackcomb mountains) has become the getaway of choice. Even though we did the same trip up the same gondola three times in two months, our mountain experience changed significantly with the weather.

When you check the weather forecast on the Whistler Blackcomb website you get three temperatures. One for the village, one for mid-mountain and one for alpine (a.k.a. the very top of the top). When it’s 25 degrees on the ground in the middle of a long, hot summer it’s easy to forget 6 degrees at the top of the mountain is very, very cold. The one thing each of my visits had in common was a wish that I’d taken a warmer coat with me, only to decide the next time that ‘it can’t have been that cold, can it?’

I wouldn't want to be up there right now...

I wouldn’t want to be up there right now…

Our first visit in July was our postponed would-be-engagement weekend which we cancelled because of forest fires. It’s a good job that James decided to propose on the original weekend anyway instead of waiting two weeks for the trip, because the weather pretty much sucked. It wasn’t too bad in the village, and the sun was even peeking out behind the clouds. Unfortunately when we got out of the gondola at mid mountain it was very cold and the clouds looked pretty ominous. It was our first time up the mountain in the summer so we decided to go ahead and take the chairlift up to the summit anyway. The clouds got darker as we got higher, until we couldn’t see anything in front of us or below us. And then the hail started. Let’s just say our tour of the summit was ‘whistle-stop’ to the extreme and we were back on the soggy chairlift within minutes. We were so cold and soggy that we didn’t even get off the Peak 2 Peak at Blackbomb mountain. Thank goodness the chalet served hot chocolate.

Up, up into the clouds...

Up, up into the clouds…

Chairlift to the abyss...

Chairlift to the abyss…

James did not enjoy the abyss (I did)

James did not enjoy the abyss (I did)

The inukshuk of gloom

The Inuksuk of gloom

Our next trip to Whistler was with the in-laws in August. It was a beautiful weekend with clear blue skies and zero percent chance of rain. The views from mid-mountain were fantastic, and this time we made sure to explore to actually get out at Blackcomb Mountain and explore the other side of the Peak 2 Peak. The chairlift ride up to the summit was much more enjoyable in the sunshine, and we laughed at how low to the mountain we actually were now that we could see the rock below us. The laughing continued when we finally saw the stunning views that we missed on our previous visit when we were literally in the clouds.

I'll take this view from the chairlift any day

I’ll take this view from the chairlift any day

The view from the summit!

The view from the summit!

Feeling Canadian. No jacket needed!

Feeling Canadian. No jacket needed!

Blackcomb mountain. Much nicer in the sunshine!

Blackcomb mountain. I’m glad we got off the Peak 2 Peak this time!

Our new favourite adventure, the Peak 2 Peak

Our new favourite adventure, the Peak 2 Peak

Our latest visit was in September with my parents. It was a really warm day in the village so I convinced myself I didn’t need to bring a proper coat with me. Luckily there was on rain on this trip, but it was bloody cold at the summit. My jacket was well and truly zipped up and my hood was definitely staying up. We got some good photos, but were also happy to get back down the mountain again. The view from the Peak 2 Peak was distinctly autumnal and the leaves were definitely more orange than green. On this visit we were lucky enough to see some very Canadian wildlife: bears and marmots, just hanging out on the slopes.

Enjoying the cold sunshine mid-mountain

Enjoying the cold sunshine mid-mountain

Hoods up at the summit

Hoods up at the summit

Fall from the Peak 2 Peak

Fall from the Peak 2 Peak

A marmot!

A marmot!

A bear! A bear! And a silly biker taking pictures...

A bear! A bear! And a silly biker taking pictures…

We knew when planning our first trip that we’d be heading up the mountain more than once, so we paid $20 to upgrade to the Peak 2 Peak 360 pass which is valid all summer. We’ve saved $80 in lift passes so far and also took advantage of a Peak 2 Peak 360 ticket package to sample the all-you-can-eat Mountain Top BBQ buffet on our first visit. It was delicious and well worth the extra $15. Contrary to what this post might suggest I don’t actually work for Whistler Blackcomb, but I have had fun at their mountain this summer. Hopefully the weather will cooperate more next summer and we’ll get some proper hiking in. Cheakamus Lake, here I come!

25 Hours in Ottawa

I’ve travelled a fair amount since I’ve lived in Canada, but last weekend I took my travels to the next level with the epitome of a whirlwind trip. I went to Ottawa, the capital of Canada, for just 25 hours! Why? To volunteer for Reconciliation Canada at the second Walk for Reconciliation. I stopped contracting with Reconciliation Canada at the end of last year, but have kept in touch with the team and volunteer when I can because it really is the most worthwhile cause I could ever imagine (more about why I first took the job here). The highlight of my previous contract was the Walk for Reconciliation in Vancouver in September 2013, which I was so privileged and proud to be a part of, so I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to volunteer at a second Walk in a province I hadn’t yet visited! The Walk was on a Sunday and I had to fit my volunteering around work, so off I went on Saturday morning and back I came on Sunday evening. I’m so grateful for the experience not only to participate in such a historic occasion as the Truth & Reconciliation Commission Closing Events, but to see the nation’s capital too!

This opportunity came together last minute, so by the time everything was confirmed the direct flights from Vancouver to Ottawa had all sold out. This meant that I was flying via Toronto, with an hour’s layover each way. Luckily I had some company in my very good friend and co-worker, Cristina. The time difference on the East Coast kills you when you fly out that way, as you lose an extra three hours of your day. Our flight left Vancouver at 9am, but stormy skies and delayed (and very bumpy) flights meant that we didn’t get to our hotel until almost 8pm Ottawa time – a whole day gone! We checked into our room at the Delta and helped with some last-minute Walk errands before heading out for a team dinner. We went to an area called Byward Market (known as just The Market) which I really liked. Think cobbled streets, outdoor patios and lots of fairy lights. I didn’t get to see much of Ottawa, but was happy just to spend time with my team again!

A very wet and stormy Toronto, between flights

A very wet and stormy Toronto, between flights

I had my first opportunity to really see Ottawa at breakfast on Sunday morning. We went over to eat at the Marriott Hotel with the rest of the team, and the view from the salon was stunning! Being close to a moving body of water is important to me in a city, and I had a great view of the Ottawa River / Rivière des Outaouais which separates Ottawa (Ontario) from the city of Gatineau (Quebec).  The river marks the border of the two provinces for most of its length, and it was fun heading over the bridge to Gatineau and entering Quebec (two provinces checked off in one day, great!).

Looking south west across the Ottawa River, to Gatineau, QC

Looking west across the Ottawa River, to Gatineau, QC

Looking north over the parliament buildings

Looking north over the parliament buildings

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Re-Exploring Seattle: Life outside of Downtown

Can I tell you a secret? I’ve been to Seattle a few times since I’ve lived in Vancouver and I’ve never really understood what all the fuss is about. It’s great for shopping, and I’m all about dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, but other than that it’s just a slightly uglier version of Vancouver, right? Well, yes and no. After talking to some friends who are significantly more enamoured with the city than me, I started to wonder whether I had it all wrong. I still don’t think Seattle will be winning any ‘most beautiful city’ awards, but now I’ve realized that’s not the point. It’s not supposed to be as pretty as Vancouver, because it’s not Vancouver. It’s the birthplace of grunge, a pioneer in performing arts, home to over 3,500 restaurants, and a mecca for craft beer and coffee. In other words, its hipster central. Although this made sense to me, I was confused as to how I hadn’t experienced any of this in my trips to downtown Seattle. The answer seemed to be to look outside of the tourist district, so the man and I headed down for a dog-free long weekend in search of the ‘real’ Seattle.

Even though we were pretty much boycotting Downtown when it came to exploring, we ended up staying at the Westin because it was central, had a pool (number 1 on the wish list for our dog-free weekend!) and we got a great deal on Priceline. When we checked in on Friday afternoon we were upgraded to the 42nd floor with great views of the city. We headed out pretty much straight away for stop number 1 on the hipster tour: Ballard.

The beautiful view from the 42nd floor of the Westin

The beautiful view from the 42nd floor of the Westin

Night lights!

Night lights!

Ballard is a neighbourhood in north west Seattle which seems to be the equivalent to East Vancouver, in that its home to a TON of microbreweries and tap rooms. James was in charge of picking the route, and he chose three breweries which were within a few blocks of each other. We jumped in a cab (about $20) so we could both partake in some tasting, and enjoyed samples at Stoup Brewing, Reuben’s Brews and Populuxe Brewing. All of the breweries were small, basic and packed full of after-work drinkers. Stoup and Reuben’s were in large warehouse-type buildings with garage doors which were open in the warm weather. Populuxe was in a converted house, with a bar in what would be the living room and picnic tables in the garden. None of the breweries sold food, which mean that they were all pet-friendly and full of dogs. And I mean real dogs, not Yaletown dogs. They all had delicious looking food trucks parked outside which were very popular.

James was excited about his first flight of the evening

James was excited about his first flight of the evening at Stoup

I stuck to my two little tasters!

I stuck to my two little tasters!

The (beer) garden at Populuxe

The (beer) garden at Populuxe

The best thing about the breweries was how laid back they were compared to Vancouver. There was no need to worry about finding a seat or waiting outside, drinking whilst standing was encouraged and made for a much more enjoyable atmosphere. James preferred Stoup and Populuxe to Reuben’s (the beers there were very, very strong), and when pushed said that Stoup was his favourite. After our evening of sampling we jumped in a cab back down to Capitol Hill and had a burger (and another flight of beer) at Six Arms, followed by dessert from (of course) Cheesecake Factory.

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Bonjour, Montreal!

I’ve lived in Canada for over 4 years now, and so far my only trip outside of BC was a short work visit to Deadmonton Edmonton last year (it wasn’t that bad, really). I have many, many places still to hit on my Canada bucket list and finally got the chance to check one of them off last week with another work trip, this time to Montreal! I flew out on a Sunday, had meetings all day Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning, and then had Wednesday afternoon through to Thursday afternoon to do some sightseeing before my evening flight home. I scoured the interweb for itineraries and walking tours and was so excited to see more than just the inside of the Best Western Hotel Europa and various meeting rooms. I ended up packing a LOT into what was basically just 24 hours, and even cracked a few French words here and there.

Walking round Old Montreal

Vieux Montreal, or Old Montreal to us anglophones, is the historic part of the city, with some buildings dating back to French colonial rule in the 1700s. It’s a much smaller area than I was expecting and spans only a few blocks squared. It includes the Notre Dame Basilica (see below), the Old Port, the Place d’Armes and the 8-storey New York Life Building, Canada’s first ever skyscraper. The main street than runs through Old Montreal is Rue St. Paul, and it’s this street that is featured on a lot of Montreal postcards. I admit that I was expecting Old Montreal to be like the French Quarter in New Orleans, and it wasn’t quite like that. But it was still fun to be back in Historic Europe for a few hours, walking along narrow cobbled roads and among old stone buildings with their coloured flags (and icicles) on display. This is a great area for finding out more about Montreal’s history, picking up some souvenirs or grabbing some delicious food – I recommend Santos for sangria and tapas.

Rue St. Paul, Old Montreal

Rue St. Paul, Old Montreal

Looking back at Old Montreal from the Old Port

Looking back at Old Montreal from the Old Port

Wrapped up warm!

Wrapped up warm!

Notre-Dame Basilica

I was half way into the 20 minute walk from the hotel to Old Montreal when my phone suddenly died. I was surprised as it was at 100% battery when I left the hotel, until I remembered how often my phone used to suddenly turn off when I was snowboarding. I was wrapped up warm for my walk but obviously -10 was just too much for my iPhone to handle. Without access to my saved walking tours or google maps I was at a bit of a loss of where to go or what to do, so I headed for the only building that I knew I could find without directions – the Basilica. The entry fee was $5, which I knew was more than worth it as soon as I walked through the door. I was expecting to walk into just another cathedral (seen one, seen them all), but the Basilica was absolutely stunning. I couldn’t believe how beautiful and vibrant the colours were, especially the ceiling and the altar. I spent a good 20 minutes walking round and taking in all the details before settling into a pew to revive my phone. The warmth of the Basilica was just what it needed, and I had enough battery to make some notes on my paper tourist map. Sanctuary, indeed.

The Notre Dame Basilica from the Place D'Armes

The Notre Dame Basilica from the Place D’Armes

Inside the beautiful Basilica

Inside the beautiful Basilica

Olive et Gourmando

Olive et Gourmando was top of my food list as I’d read about it on a number of travel blogs. It’s a cozy cafe on Rue St. Paul which has a great reputation and even better food. I settled into a high table and enjoyed the best soup I’ve ever tasted (homemade cauliflower and lentil) with the best croissant I’ve ever tasted (there was cheese involved) topped off with the best mocha I’ve ever tasted. It really was an amazing meal, and the atmosphere and service were also fantastic. I ended up going back to Olive et Gourmando on Thursday for another mocha and a sweet almond croissant, and again was not disappointed.

Olive et Gourmando

Olive et Gourmando

Meal #1 - Cauliflower soup, cheese croissant, mocha

Meal #1 – Cauliflower soup, cheese croissant, mocha

Meal #2 - Almond croissant and another delicious mocha

Meal #2 – Almond croissant and another delicious mocha

Poutine at La Banquise

Second on my food list was some real Quebecoise poutine from the rumoured best in the city, La Banquise. I love love love poutine, especially from Megabite Pizza pm Granville Street at 3am after a night out. It was the French who first combined fries, cheese curds and gravy, so I was excited to taste the best in Montreal. After agonizing over the 30+ types of poutine, I decided that my taste test would be most effective if I kept it simple and went for La Classique. My plate of deliciousness arrived very quickly, and it was gooooood. Not infinitely better than Granville Street’s finest, but now I’ll feel better eating my Vancouver imitation knowing that I’ve sampled the original.

Restaurant La Banquise

Restaurant La Banquise

La Classique - yummm!

La Classique – yummm!

Mount Royal

I’m a sucker for a good view and a challenge, so hiking from Downtown Montreal to the top of a mountain to look out over the city was a perfect way to spend a morning. It seems I walk much, much faster than the average TripAdvisor reviewer, and the climb up the stairs only took about 15 minutes (not quite the urban grouse grind I was expecting). The view really was stunning, and was made even better by the bluebird skies and fresh white snow. The mountain (hill) is also the site of Mount Royal Park which features cross-country and snowshoe trails, a tobogganing run and ice skating on the frozen Beaver Lake.

The steps leading up to the top of Mount Royal

The steps leading up to the top of Mount Royal

Me at the lookout!

Me at the lookout!

The view over Montreal

The view over Montreal

Tobogganing runs by Beaver Lake

Tobogganing runs by Beaver Lake

Montreal Smoked Meat at Schwartz’s Deli

The final stop on Lizzie’s Custom Food Tour had to involve Montreal smoked meat. Schwartz’s Deli is known for serving the best, so I headed straight there from Mount Royal for an early lunch. After all I’d read online about Schwartz’s I was expecting a large, somewhat touristy restaurant. Instead I found a small, crowded diner which was just about as local as you could get (there were actual construction workers eating sandwiches on the diner bar). I ordered a #3 (sandwich, all the meat) with no mustard and it was both huge and delicious! The brisket was so flavourful, and the sandwich was just the right size to fill my post-hike appetite. The deli meat at Choices grocery store in Vancouver will never taste quite the same again.

Schwartz's Deli

Schwartz’s Deli

Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich - amazing!

Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich – amazing!

Underground City

After a morning of walking in the snow, my final stop was the Underground City, also called the RESO. At first glance it just looks like a mall, but it’s actually the largest underground complex in the world. There are over 32km of tunnels which house over 1700 shops, 200 restaurants and 30 movie theatres, as well as halls, museums and hotels. You can get to the Underground City at any of the 120 entrances, and once down there you can walk miles across Downtown avoiding the cold and snow completely. This is definitely the way to walk to work for at least 4 months of the year.

Hiding from the cold in the Underground City

Hiding from the cold in the Underground City

Chilly St. Catherine's street above

Chilly St. Catherine’s street above