And then there was an earthquake…

Writing a new blog post has been on my to-do list since November. It didn’t budge by the beginning or even the middle of December, mostly due to lack of inspiration for an interesting post. I started this blog in September 2010 to document my experience moving to, and living in, Vancouver. It’ll be five years next week since I got on the place, and life here has gone from an extended vacation to…well, just life.

I used to fill my posts with of all of the funny cultural differences I was experiencing in Canada and what I missed about the UK. Five years on, those topics are pretty much done to death, I feel that much more displaced every time I go back to England and I can’t wait to come ‘home’ to Vancouver.

I went back for a week-long trip just before Christmas to attend an old friend’s wedding and catch up with friends and family. I spent most of the time wandering round in a bit of a daze noticing really tiny things about the UK that I’d never really considered before (those soft drink bottles really are TINY compared to the North American standard). On the outside I was a normal English person whose accent maybe had a bit of a twang, or then again maybe you were imagining it. On the inside I was screaming “you all think I’m like you, because I sound like you, but I’m not. I’m different and I have a whole new life and no idea how to function in this one anymore. How the hell do I respond to ‘alright?'”

So I didn’t write about that trip home, and I didn’t write about Christmas either. I used to to new year’s resolution posts but they were a bit pointless as none of the resolutions ever lasted longer than it took to proofread and hit ‘publish’. I had no idea what I was going to write about next, but knew I had to figure out something before the end of another month with no post.

And then there was an earthquake. If that’s not something to write about, I don’t know what is.

I tried to get an early night last night, but was woken up at 11:39pm by a quake ranging somewhere from 4.3-4.8. The shaking only lasted a few seconds, but it was enough to mess with my suddenly awake senses and confuse the hell out of me.

quake

It was a pretty minor one in the grand scheme of earthquakes, but my panic in the moment was whether this was a pre-cursor to ‘the big one’, which could hit Vancouver any day now (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, just google The Big One Vancouver). It wasn’t helped by my the other half running into the bedroom clutching our earthquake kit yelling ‘This is it! This is it!’

Turns out it wasn’t it, but we evacuated the building anyway, just in case. The dog embraced the freezing cold midnight walk round the park and I made a mental note to add a hat and scarf to our kit. After scouring Twitter, phoning/texting half of Vancouver and speculating with the neighbours in the lobby (all 10 of them who got out of bed), we headed back upstairs. Funnily enough, neither of us slept very well. It’s amazing how one little earthquake can also be one huge reminder about the very real danger of the big one, which will be about 1000 times worse than last night. And all jokes aside, will be beyond terrifying and totally devastating.

Anyway, the internet is full of some pretty hilarious Vancouver earthquake memes today (and I admit to feeling a little smug that we already had our kit prepared), but it does get you thinking. If the big one could happen when I’m fully clothed, wearing comfortable shoes and have my contact lenses in, that would be awesome.

quakememe.jpg

Things I learned from completing a 30-day vegan challenge

I did it! 30 days of no meat, poultry, fish or dairy. I wasn’t perfect and will openly admit that there were a couple of times I accidentally broke the rules (damn you Noodlebox and your fish sauce). But overall I was successful in completing my challenge and I learned a lot about veganism, food production and myself in the process. Here are a some of my reflections.

Overall, it was easier than I thought it would be. Vancouver is a great place to live if you follow a vegetarians or vegan diet. The Lebanese take-out restaurant with the delicious falafel, hummus and avocado pita on the next block saved the day many, many times.

But it was still inconvenient. It’s amazing how many bars and restaurants don’t offer a single vegan option. If they do, it’ll be fries or nothing.

EVERYTHING has dairy in it. A lot of veggie burgers contain cheese as a binding agent. Many types of bread contain traces of milk. Most dressings and sauces contain cream. It’s not as simple as ‘I’ll just have this without the cheese please’.

Homemade vegan mac & cheese with a vegetable and cashew nut sauce

Homemade vegan mac & cheese with a vegetable and cashew nut sauce

Veganism is much more than just not eating meat, poultry, fish or dairy. It’s a lifestyle based on avoiding all animal products and by-products in every area of your life. My 30-day challenge was the diet side only.

Meat-free hot dogs are one of the worst tasting things on the planet. Don’t even bother.

Veganism is a means to an end, but it’s not the end. It’s not about not eating this or that just to follow the rules, it’s about being aware of the outcomes of our decisions and making the best choices we can depending on our personal philosophy.

Panago offer dairy-free cheese as an option on all pizzas and one vegan (and gluten-free) crust. It doesn’t taste the same. Especially without the garlic dip.

Panago garden veggie pizza with Daiya cheese

Panago garden veggie pizza with Daiya cheese

There is definitely such a thing as too much (dairy-free) cheese. I’ll also be happy if I don’t see a chickpea for a while.

You can eat vegan without eating fruit or vegetables. I went two days eating nothing but oatmeal and vegan mac and cheese. Not a healthy option.

Indian, Mexican, Middle Eastern and Thai cuisines are generally very vegan-friendly.

Soy milk does NOT taste the same as cow’s milk in coffee, even though everyone says it does. Neither does almond milk or coconut milk. I really missed lattes, but I saved a lot of money giving them up.

A veggie burger with salad and garlic fries from Meet on Main

A veggie burger with salad and garlic fries from Meet on Main

I enjoyed my meals much more when I swapped vegan versions of meat/dairy for plant based foods. Then it’s not ‘vegan food’. It’s just food.

I can be really forgetful, especially when it comes to snacks. I got part way through a pack of mini cheddars (my favourite British snack) before I remembered they contain powdered cheese (duh!). I panicked and hid them at the back of the cupboard. They were first thing I ate after the challenge was over.

There are some really great vegetarian/vegan restaurants in Vancouver. We loved The Black Lodge and Meet on Main. Yummmmm.

I don’t feel healthy and cleansed and full of joy and all those things you read about online that happen when you give up major food groups. I feel OK, but nothing magical.

A vegan B.A.L.T sandwich with coconut bacon, yummm.

A vegan B.A.L.T sandwich with coconut bacon, yummm.

I eat a lot of tuna. I put it in everything from pasta to pitas to sandwiches to jacket potatoes. Not eating it for 30 days made me realize how much I’ve missed it.

Some food that you think would be vegan, aren’t. Beer, sugar, vegetable soups, tortillas, pad thai and refried beans are on the list. It’s amazing how many processed foods contain actual dairy, not just flavourings (that’s good, I guess).

Some food products that you might not think would be vegan, are. Like Oreos, Ritz Crackers and Lindt dark chocolate.

Now I’ve finished the challenge I won’t continue with a strict vegan diet but I have no desire to eat meat or poultry any time soon, but I am craving cheese and fish. From here, I think I’m a mostly pescatarian who chooses vegan options when I can and still eats meat at Christmas.

A vegan BBQ burger from Tera V Burgers.

A vegan BBQ burger from Tera V Burgers.

Why I Just Started a 30-day Vegan Challenge

Yup, a 30 day vegan challenge. It’s happening. Why? The answer is the same as that of all of life’s important questions: Leonardo DiCaprio. Well, sort of. Leo recently came on to save (aka executive produce) a documentary called Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret that had just had its funding cut because its message was considered too controversial. Leo stepped in and worked with the filmakers to finish the film and secure global distribution via Netflix.

The manfriend and I were working through our regular post-dinner ritual of Netflix-browsing when we saw Conspiracy. It had five stars and an intriguing name, which was enough for us. This may sound a tad melodramatic, but this documentary has completely changed my perspective on agriculture, the food industry and the environment. I don’t think I could do it justice by explaining it in my own words, so here are some of theirs:

“As eye-opening as Blackfish and as inspiring as An Inconvenient Truth, this shocking yet humorous documentary reveals the absolutely devastating environmental impact large-scale factory farming has on our planet, and offers a path to global sustainability for a growing population.”

cow

Everyone has causes they are care about and advocate for and I will openly admit that the environment has never been top of my list. Sure, I try to recycle and only take plastic bags when I need them, but most of the facts and information in Cowspiracy were completely new to me. For example:

  • Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation
  • Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction
  • Even without fossil fuels, we will exceed our 565 gigatonnes CO2e limit by 2030, all from raising animals

It also got me thinking about the food industry in general. I found out that:

  • Agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of US water consumption
  • 82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and the animals are eaten by western countries
  • A farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people

It suddenly seems very, very weird to me that we live in a world where rainforests are cut down so that we can grow food to feed to animals for people to eat. Why not just give the food directly to people who need it? Aren’t there people in the world who could really use some of the 2,500 gallons of water it takes to produce 1lb of beef? Who knew that Leo would have still this much of an impact on my life 18 years after Titanic?

Don’t worry, I’m not going all preachy on you. This is a blog about my life in Canada (and apparently now about Leonardo DiCaprio), not about cows. Plus, I don’t want to give anything else away or it will ruin the documentary for you if you decide to watch it. You might not be moved by all of it, or you might have already known all of this and I’m just catching up. Either way, it’ll explain how this all ties in with me giving the vegan thing a go for 30 days.

The good news is, I live in Vancouver aka the Lost City of Dietary Requirements, which has no shortage of vegan sections in grocery stores. I’m actually looking forward to trying some new vegan restaurants too. The other good news is that I’ve decided to really focus on the reasons why I’m doing this and not get hung up on the small print. Did you know that white sugar isn’t vegan (it’s processed with charcoal that comes from animal bones) and that most store bought bread contains milk? I’ll be cutting out meat, fish, dairy and eggs and making good choices where I can on the lifestyle side (I can’t afford real leather anyway). More good news is that the manfriend is doing this challenge with me, so I have some moral support. The best news is that I already have a tried, tested and delicious recipe for vegan mac & cheese…yummmmm.

The bad news is pretty self-explanatory. No cheese, no greasy burgers, no drunk poutine and no throwing a can of tuna in anything and everything to make a meal. Something tells me that I won’t be a lifelong vegan after this experiment, but it will be interesting to see if there are any food habits that I do continue. I’m all stocked up on almond milk, vegan butter and cauliflower, so wish me luck!

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!

2015: The year of endless sunshine, smoke and a diamond ring

What can I say? The last few weeks have been a whirlwind. There are so many blog posts that I meant to write but didn’t get round to, and now I’m wondering whether they’re even relevant anymore.

I wanted to write about that time I decided to ‘shake things up’ and get a tattoo. Then I was going to write about my first trip to gorgeous Galliano Island where I sunbathed, hiked and got driven home from the pub in a school bus by a man playing a drum kit above his head while I tapped along with a maraca. Then I was going to write about the wildfires across BC that caused smoky skies all across Vancouver for a week, dashing our plans for a weekend hiking in Whistler. THEN I was going to write about how we went to Golden Ears Park instead and walked through the forest to a waterfall where the man only went and got down on one knee…eeeeek! We’ve been together almost 8 years, including moving to Vancouver together from the UK, so it was extra special that we got engaged in such a ‘Canadian’ location. The last couple of weeks have passed by in a complete blur of excited phone calls, engagement parties (yes multiple, I’m a very lucky girl) and staring at my left ring finger. Talk about shaking things up.

Shocked doesn't even begin to cover it!

Shocked doesn’t even begin to cover it.

It still hasn't sunk in!

It still hasn’t sunk in!

The best part is, things aren’t going to calm down any time soon. We head to Oregon on Wednesday for an extra long weekend and our first time exploring inland Oregon. We’ll be enjoying some much needed R&R while checking off four of the seven wonders of Oregon: Columbia River Gorge, Mount Hood, Smith Rock and Crater Lake. A week after we get back, the fiancé’s (oooh!) parents arrive from the UK for a two week trip which includes five days in San Francisco. A couple of weeks after they leave my parents arrive for three weeks and we start their visit with a weekend in Tofino. And then it’s practically Thanksgiving and we’ll eat a big roast dinner and have a nap. Phewwww.

While I can’t promise I’ll get around to writing all of those blog posts any time soon (except the tattoo one, I really want to write that one!), I can promise that I’ll keeping enjoying life here in Vancouver. For more ‘in the moment’ updates about the craziness that is 2015 you can follow me on instagram. Who said odd numbered years were bad ones?*

*Oh wait, that was me. Shows what I know.

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

5 Reasons You Should Apply For A Canadian Working Holiday Visa On March 12!

This week is pretty important as far as working holiday internet chatter goes. Tomorrow (or today, if you’re in the UK) the International Experience Canada (IEC) Working Holiday Visa applications for UK citizens open for 2015. The prize up for grabs is a 24 month visa (increased from 12 month in previous years) which will allow you to live and work anywhere in Canada. When I applied for my visa in 2010 they were released in January, ran out around June or July time, and then another bunch were released in September. Last year, there were three rounds of online submissions to make a total of 5,350 visas, and each round sold out within minutes. Literally, minutes. There are many, many reasons why working holidays are becoming more popular, and why more people are choosing to leave to the UK for Canada (and other great destinations) each year. Below are the top 5 things I think you should think about. And think about quickly.

1. You get to try a different lifestyle

There’s going on vacation, and then there’s living and working abroad. Spending two years (or even a few months) in another country is your chance to try something totally different and really immerse yourself in a different culture. You’ll make the ultimate transition from tourist to local and really get to know the city or country that you moved to. Even if you choose a seemingly similar destination without a language barrier, like most of Canada, you’ll be amazed at the cultural differences you experience and learn from. Whoever said that ‘the grass isn’t always greener’ clearly did not make the move from Southampton to Vancouver. How many times have you ever been on vacation and thought ‘I wonder what it would be like to live here?’ Now is your chance to find out.

2. It’s an opportunity to see the other side of the world

The best thing about living in Vancouver is that I have a whole new base on the West Coast. The sheer size of Canada does make me wish I’d made the most of cheap travel in Europe more, but it also means there’s so much more for me to see. Vancouver is the perfect springboard for destinations like the Rocky Mountains, Hawaii, Alaska, California, Mexico and even whittles previously long-haul trips like Australia, New Zealand or Hong Kong down to a single, direct flight. All of a sudden you’re looking further than Bournemouth beach for a weekend away, and when you do head back to good old Blighty you appreciate the best parts (mini cheddars, Ribena, cheese) much much more.

Will you choose sun? (Big Beach, Maui)

Will you choose sun? (Big Beach, Maui, HI)

....or snow? (Vancouver, BC)

….or snow? (Vancouver, BC)

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The Search for the Missing Winter (hint: it’s not in Vancouver)

To say it’s been a mild winter on the West Coast is putting it lightly. Temperatures have hovered in double figures, our heating is now off during the day and I ate brunch outside on a patio this weekend. Down in the city it’s been amazing to have spring arrive so early, but it’s not so welcome in the mountains. All three local resorts have suspended their winter operations, and it sounds like Whistler might not be far behind. I have a season pass at Grouse Mountain and managed to make it up three times before they closed. If I’m honest, February has been so busy that I would barely have had time to make it up once a week anyway, but that doesn’t stop me feeling a bit cheated by Mother Nature. Nowhere near as cheated as the resorts must feel I’m sure, especially as there’s nothing they can do about it. Grouse have offered winter pass holders unlimited ziplining and tours of the viewing platform at the top of their wind turbine which I actually think is a pretty cool gesture and one I can’t wait to take advantage of. Unlimited ziplining! 

This still leaves me with the issue of a snowboard and no snow, a problem that I had to go further afield to solve. The man and I decided to swap sunny Vancouver for snowy Vernon over the February long weekend, and guess what. We found winter! When we arrived at our Air BnB apartment our host told us that the area is experiencing record snowfall – the highest in 83 years. Unfair, much? Although it was a particularly warm weekend (such is life), there was still lots of snow on the ground. We walked in it, hiked in it and finally snowboarded and skied in it when we took a trip to Silver Star Mountain Resort.

The stunning view of Kalamalka Lake from our Air BnB balcony

The stunning view of Kalamalka Lake from our Air BnB balcony in Coldstream

marmitetomaple_davesnow

Snow Puppy!

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