I haven’t written much about the places I’ve travelled to in the last six months, mainly due to time constraints and other more blog-worthy happenings, but I think my latest adventure deserves a post all to itself. Victoria is the capital of British Columbia after all, which is why my boyfriend and I hopped on the ferry for a spontaneous getaway last week. I’d heard many great things about the city and the vast majority proved themselves to be true. It’s official – I heart Victoria.
The journey from Vancouver to Victoria took approximately 4.5 hours, and included a bus to Downtown, a SkyTrain to Richmond, another bus to Tsawassen Ferry Terminal, a ferry to Scwartz Bay and a final bus to downtown Victoria. We were all checked in to our hotel room on Quebec Street by 1pm, and by 1:03pm we were sampling the delights of Victoria’s beautiful Inner Harbour. We took in lunch at The Irish Times, the city’s most famous Irish Bar, and spent the afternoon wandering around the little town, stopping only to eat fudge, drink cocktails and take a free tour of the Legislative Buildings. Canada’s political system is based on that of the UK, so being a Brit I found the building and the information interesting and at times amusing, particularly the part with the portrait of the Queen and Prince Phillip.
July 11th marked my six month anniversary in Vancouver, and also tipped me over the half way point of my first year living abroad in Canada. How time flies when you’re having fun, and fun I have most definitely had. Work, friends and travel have taken over my life to the extent that I can hardly remember what living in Southampton, England, was like, and definitely can’t imagine being back there.
The first thing to report at this major milestone is that my visa has now been approved for 2012, and my Letter of Introduction (the document I had to immigration on the way into the country) is sitting in my inbox waiting to be activated on January 11th2012, the day my current visa expires. I was pretty certain at the three month mark that I wanted to stay here for longer than my original year, and now I’m at the half way line there’s no going back. To England that is. I’m still not sure yet whether Vancouver could be a permanent home, but home it is for the time being.
On the flip side, a number of our original group from the BUNAC flight have now left Vancouver, with more and more ‘biting the dust’ the further into the year we get. Some have gone on to further travel, some to University, and others back home. Some have shortened their trip, and some have extended it. Many were only ever here in the short term whereas others, like me, have applied for their 2012 visas and are looking to stay past Christmas. Either way, January 5th 2011 seems like a lifetime ago.
This post is winging its way into cyber space slightly later than I hoped; partly because it’s been a very busy week, but mainly because I managed to lose my camera cable (and therefore Canada Day photos) in the move. Luckily, I am the kind of geek who takes photos on her iPhone for tweeting purposes, so this post has been rescued and I’m able to tell you all what I got up to on my first Canada Day.
I’ll start with the briefest of history lessons for background purposes. Wikipedia tells this much better than I can, but Canada Day is the anniversary of the three pre-existing British-owned Provinces becoming one country, called Canada, on July 1st 1867. For all intents and purposes, it’s Canada’s birthday and a statutory holiday across Canada. Cue fireworks, parades, BBQs, flags, temporary tattoos and a day off work.
My first Canada Day started with a visit to nearby Granville Island to watch their lunchtime parade. It was a small affair which ended with a short ceremony at which there were various speeches and a chorus of ‘O Canada’. I wore a red cardigan for the occasion, and the vast majority of people in attendance displayed the uniform of white pants/red top. There were visitors from all over the world all waving their flags and joining in the fun, and it was a great atmosphere. My afternoon was slightly less patriotic, and consisted of an emergency visit to The Future Shop to buy electrical essentials (indoor TV aerial and a wireless router) for our new apartment. Even so, Downtown was a sea of red and white, with Granville Street, the main thoroughfare, closed for the occasion.
July 1st 2011 marked my first Canada Day in Vancouver, but it also marked the end of our 6 month sublet and the day we moved apartments. It was with a formidable sense of déjà vu that we packed our belongings at the end of June as July 1stis moving day for students back in Southampton, and the day that I’ve moved house for the past six years. This particular move went very smoothly, thanks to the help of my Guardian Angel/friend who turned up with her surprisingly roomy car to transport our worldly possessions to our new place three blocks over.
Our prized belongings contain largely clothes, so it was essential that we found somewhere fully furnished to move into. Bed linen, plates, pans…you name it, we need it. We struggled to find somewhere in the area that we wanted (i.e. the beach) at first, but 10 days before we were due to be made homeless we found a three month sublet in a very large and imposing building on the edge of Kits Point, and at the bottom of the bridge to Downtown. It’s definitely a little more cosy than our last apartment, but the bright and colourful interior and proximity to the beach more than make up for it.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock this week, you’ll have seen Vancouver and the biggest hockey game of the year hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Wednesday night was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, with the Vancouver Canucks hosting the Boston Bruins in an all-or-nothing battle for the Cup. Game 7’s are always going to be tense, but when the Stanley Cup is the prize the stakes are most definitely raised. Add the constant reminders of the riots that took over the city last time the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup final in 1994, and you can pretty much guarantee that Wednesday night was never going to end well.
I watched the game with a group of friends on the outdoor screens in the gated area of the CBC Plaza. It started at 5pm, and the seating area was full of fans soaking up the sunshine from lunchtime. At 5pm capacity had been reached, the gates were closed and queues of people were turned away. At 5:20pm the puck dropped, and thousands of fans followed tradition and sat down on their blankets and lawn chairs to watch the action. Except hundreds more people remained standing at the front, angering those who could no longer see the screens. There was shouting, there was throwing things, there was more people standing up to get a better view. And then the gates re-opened and yet more people spilled into the plaza, taking up every available space. Every available space included roofs of buildings, billboards, trees and the tops of porta-potties. The walkways running through the seating area were quickly blocked with people, and the CBC security guards soon gave up trying to shift them and started taking photos instead.
Today has been one of those days where I’ve been having some of those moments. The ‘oh right, I live in Canada now’ kind of moments.
It’s easier than it sounds to forget that on any given day I’m over 4700 miles from home as I’m not only settled inVancouver, but firmly established in my own work/life routine. I often find myself sitting on the bus checking Facebook on my phone (nothing new there) when I’ll see that it’s a friend’s birthday, or an annual event I used to go to, and I’ll suddenly realize that I’m travelling down West Broadway, in a hockey jersey, on my way to work at Canada’s only national cancer charity. Crazy. Six months ago I left my old life in Southampton so excited but completely unable to imagine what my new life inVancouverwould be like. Now I know, and I love it. Here’s a little taste of a day in the life of me:
6:30am – The alarm goes off, it’s time to get up.
7:40am– Leave for work. My daily commute involves a 10 minute walk to the bus stop, a 20 minute bus ride, a wait for another 10 minute bus ride, and a 10 minute walk to work. But hey, at least I’m not sitting on the tube.
8:30am – Arrive at work. I work for the Canadian Cancer Society BCY (British Columbia& theYukon) and the Greater Vancouver Regional office is on the border of Vancouver and Burnaby, another city to the East. My job as aVolunteer Engagement Coordinator involves attracting, recruiting and managing volunteers, as well as working with the rest of the team to improve the volunteer experience and make us the charity of choice in BCY. My day can include everything from interviewing volunteers and designing training modules to discussing campaign progress with our Revenue Development teams and organizing a volunteer recognition event. Yes, I’m a geek. But I love it!
There are lots of things I love about living in Vancouver, and I think it’s time for me to start telling you about them. These things will be listed in no particular order, and I’m going to start with the mountains. Mountains are a source of Canadian pride across the country, and in Vancouver we have the North Shore mountain range right on our doorstep. I’m writing this whilst looking out of my living room window at the bright lights of the three ski/snowboard resorts of Cypress, Grouse and Seymour. Respectively a 28km, 12km, and 18km drive from Downtown Vancouver, snow has never been more accessible to me.
For anyone living in the UK a skiing/snowboarding trip either consists of a 2 hour session at an indoor snow dome or a week long holiday to Europe. In Vancouver I can jump on a bus outside my house and be at the base of Grouse Mountain in under an hour. Seymour and Cypress are a little further away, but all doable in 2 hours or less. Slightly further afield the world famous resort of Whistler-Blackcomb is a mere 2.5 hours on the Greyhound. And mountain pursuits don’t just stop at skiing and snowboarding. Activities include snowshoeing, hiking, ice skating, tubing and even sleigh rides. This year saw the winter season extended at all resorts, with Grouse Mountain staying open until Canada Day (July 1st)! Grouse is also open during the summer months when visitors can enjoy mountain ziplines, paragliding, eco-tours and various wildlife habitats and demonstrations.
In Vancouver the mountains have another secret talent, as they act as a barometer. Every morning I sit and eat my cereal whilst looking out the window to see how clear the mountains are. If I can make out the lines of the ski runs I know it’s going to be a sunny day, whereas if I can’t even see the peaks then I pick up my umbrella on the way out the door. Unfortunately for me, it’s usually the latter. On the days where I can see them, they have a secondary use as a compass. Wherever I am in Vancouver I just look for the mountains and I know I’m facing north. Ish. This is particularly useful in the grid that is Downtown.
Last but not least, I can also use the mountains as a clock. Right now the they’re pitch black, and I can’t even see the lights at Grouse Mountain anymore. This means that it’s late enough for them to be turned off, and therefore late enough for me to be in bed. And with that I shall go.
I’m now over four months into my Vancouver adventure, and I can already say that there are some things I’ll never get used to. My unsuccessful interactions with the Canadian service industry is one of them. I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason I’m asked to repeat myself every time I order a coffee/coke/sandwich/other food and drink is because the person asking for my order is so distracted by the fact that I have an accent that they stop listening to what I’m saying. So they ask me to say it again. Every. Single. Time.
The situation got so hilariously ridiculous that three of my Canadian friends created some cue cards for me to flash instead of speaking my regular orders. We soon realised that the English-Canadian language barrier doesn’t stop at food and drink, and before I knew it I had a comprehensive set of 41 unique cue cards. Here are a few of my most used translations:
Bin = Garbage
Chips = Fries
Crisps = Chips
Lie in = Sleep in
Lemonade = Sprite
Wellies = Rain Boots
Line = Queue
Hockey = Ice Hockey
Toque = Beanie
Poutine= Chips, cheese and gravy
Loonie = 1 dollar coin
Toonie = 2 dollar coin
Hydro = Electricity
Pop = Fizzy drinks
Take off = Go away
Trunk = Boot
Hoser = Loser/Idiot
Concentrate = Squash
Cilantro – Corriander
Canuck = Canadian
Movie Theatre = Cinema
Apartment = Flat
Those of you with the misfortune to be friends with me on Facebook or to follow me on Twitter will be well aware that I have developed somewhat of an addiction to hockey. In particular, the Vancouver Canucks. To avoid any confusion at the outset, I’m not talking about the kind of hockey I used to play on a muddy field with the other girls at grammar school. Far from it. Think more large bearded men with oversized jerseys slamming each other into screens, ice and each other.
There is more to hockey than fighting of course. Sometimes there’s even a puck involved. Stereotypes aside, when watching my first hockey game in our local bar I was surprised to see how much more there is to hockey than fists and fights. It’s a super fast game and the players are incredibly talented. So much can happen in a minute, thirty seconds or even 10 seconds, and the tension felt by fans in the final moments of a crucial game cannot be explained with words.
Although the UK heat wave and the Royal Wedding are trying to convince me otherwise, I seem to have come to Vancouver at a great time after all. The regular NHL (National Hockey League) finishes in April and is immediately followed by the playoffs, which end in the ultimate East vs West competition: The Stanley Cup final. The playoff structure is complex to say the least, and involves seeded teams competing in up to four series, each of which is decided by best of 7 games. And there’s me thinking that the second leg of a football game was unnecessary. I never fail to be impressed with the dedication of hockey fans as teams in the playoffs are in action nearly every 48 hours for up to 6 weeks, and that’s after finishing a regular season of 82 games in 6 months.
This week marks the three month anniversary of my arrival in Canada, which seems about the right time for a general update – a ‘maple musing’ if you will. The realisation that I’ve been in Vancouver for a quarter of a year already has come as somewhat of a surprise, as time seems to move at an entirely different speed here. On one hand, I cannot believe the time has flown by so quickly. A quarter of a year? Mid April? Really? It seems like just yesterday I was standing at the airport, laden with luggage and saying goodbyes. On the other hand, I cannot believe it’s only been three months, as the longer I live here the longer it feels like I’ve been here forever. And that I could be here forever.
As they say, forever is a long time, and perhaps too strong a word at this stage in the game, but it’s definitely safe to say that I’m very much enjoying my time in Vancouver and that I have no plans to run back to Blighty for the time being. I have a great job, great apartment and I live a minute’s walk away from a great beach. I’ve done some great things and had some great experiences, including a Canucks hockey game, a trip to Seattle, an Olympic anniversary celebration and day trips to the ski slopes. I’ve met some great people, particularly in my team at work, and I’ve planned a lot more great things to come, such as a weekend in Whistler.
That’s not to suggest that everything has been, well, great. At least not totally, all the time. I wouldn’t say I’ve been homesick as such, but I do miss my family and can’t wait for them to come and visit. Three months is long enough for my trip away to be more than just a trip, and I’ve been here for the right amount of time to miss my British friends but not to make Canadian ones. My fellow BUNACers from the group flight are starting to head back home one by one, and by the summer I’ll be one of the only few remaining. The cost of living in Vancouver is much higher than I anticipated, making my dream West End apartment with gym and pool seem even further out of reach. With my new job I can now afford to travel to the places I read about in my guide book, but I no longer have the time to. And don’t even get me started on the banking system.
Of course, all of these annoyances pale into insignificance when thinking about what I’d be doing now if I was still in Southampton. My point is, since arriving in Vancouver there have been far more downs than I thought there would be (making new friends is proving difficult) but far more ups too (fantastic job, lovely apartment). Moving to another country definitely hasn’t been easy, but it’s also the best thing I’ve ever done and I wouldn’t take it back. So much so that my second Working Holiday Visa has been applied for and conditionally approved, and it looks like I’ll be staying for an extra year. In 2012 the world might be flocking to London, but I’ll be heading straight back to Vancouver.