It’s that time of year again. Gossip Girl is back from its mid-season hiatus (nearly), the weather has turned that much wetter, and people the world over are writing down their goals and dream for the year ahead. I am no different, and this year I spent the flight from Dallas to Vancouver writing my very own list for 2012. Least year’s list was comprised of philisophical (and dare I say vague) life goals for my first year living abroad, and now I’m settling in for my second year in Vancouver I’ve decided to be a little more specific.
1. Keep a diary. Nice and simple. I haven’t kept a diary for a few years now, and I think it’s about time I started writing again. That, and the pretty notebooks in Cath Kidston were just too flowery to resist.
2. Travel. Specifically within Canada. And specifically to the Rockies (think Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise). I only took three days of vacation from work from February to December 2011, which was mainly because I was focussed on settling in and getting to know Vancouver, and my job. Now I’ve been in my role for a year (almost) I’m in a much better place to plan my holidays a little more strategically and make sure I see more of Canada in 2012. After all, that’s why I’m living here.
3. Save money.Easier said than done, but as well as focussing on travelling I would also like to end the year with some savings in the bank. I do have a number in mind, and I’m not going to tell you.
4. Ski/snowboard more.The first thing I tell friends and family about Vancouver is the close proximity to the mountains, but I only spent 4 days on the snow last season. Granted, I had just arrived in the country, but this year I’m going to make the most of my evenings and weekends and head for the slopes. In fact, I have already booked a series of snowboarding lessons for February; every Monday evening after work I’ll be heading to Grouse Mountain for a 2 hour group lesson, followed by a social session in the bar.
5. Have a targeted approach to work. I love my job and I like to think I always give 100%, but this year I’m going to be much more strategic with my projects and plans. There aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done all the time, but I can pick my battles and make sure I focus on building on my strengths and improving my weaknesses to really make the most of my 2012.
1. I don’t have a Canadian accent…or do I?
I mentioned in my last post that every single friend I’ve spoken to since I’ve been back has commented on my accent, or lack of one. It seems like a year has been long enough to pick up more than a slight twang, though how strong that twang is depends on who you talk to. The one thing I will admit is that my vocabulary has definitely been altered somewhat, with words like toilet, autumn and lift being replaced by washroom, fall and elevator. If it’s any consolation, I get the same funny looks when I use the wrong word in both countries, perhaps even more so back in the UK!
2. Home will always be home…
I was excited, nervous and more than a little apprehensive about heading back to the UK after a year, mainly because I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know whether arriving home would make me feel happy or sad, or whether everything would be the same as I remembered it. As it turns out, I didn’t really feel any of these things. There was no rush of emotion or epic conclusion to the weeks of worrying, I just, well, came home and got on with it. I was surprised at how quickly I settled back into normal life, and how weird it wasn’t being back in Ipswich, Southampton, London and Cambridge. When I met up with friends it really didn’t feel like a whole year (or in some cases much longer) had passed since I left; we just got right back into our flow. Which I guess is a good thing.
3. …but one person’s home is another’s holiday.
Despite feeling comfortably at home as soon as I touched down at the airport, my trip back to the UK was a vacation in all senses of the word (three weeks of work…hello?) and I did make the most of the holiday feeling as much as possible. There are so many, many differences between England and Vancouver, and I found myself naturally appreciating the things that make each place unique rather than comparing the two. I loved sailing down the Orwell River in the freezing cold, wandering past historical colleges in Cambridge and enjoying a (cheap) drink in a London pub. I insisted on taking photos of everything, because ‘my friends back home would love this’, and I realised how lucky I was to be spending three weeks of my year in a place that many people only dream of coming. It sounds a bit soppy (and a tad unbelievable), but there’s definitely something to be said for looking at your everyday life through the eyes of a tourist.
After 11 months in Vancouver, I’m happy to be writing this post curled up on the sofa of my house in Shotley Gate, near Ipswich, in Suffolk, England. The Christmas tree is up, the wreath is on the door, and I’m watching The A Team on Sky. I’ve been back in the country for a week now, and I still have another two weeks before I fly back to Vancouver. I’ve spent time with my family in Ipswich, friends in Southampton and grandparents in Basingstoke. I haven’t checked my work emails once, and am well and truly on vacation.
The flight from Vancouver was better than I expected it to be; I didn’t sleep or watch many movies, but I did close my eyes and listen to Westlife for 2 straight hours (oh yes). I arrived at Heathrow very, very tired but very, very excited to see my parents waiting with a huge ‘Welcome Home’ sign and a UK SIM card. Priorities indeed. I managed to stay awake for the drive back to Ipswich, and thoroughly enjoyed the toasted cheese sandwich that was waiting for me when I arrived. My first evening meal was an infamous family speciality: sausage meat pie with mashed potato, vegetables and a lot of gravy. How very British.
Once I got home it felt like I’d never been away, and it was the same when I arrived in Southampton. I was nervous about what it would be like being back on campus, but I had a fantastic few days of coffees, lunches and dinners with friends. I found myself repeatedly pinching myself to remind myself that being back wasn’t a dream, and more importantly that Vancouver wasn’t either. I was surprised at how easy it was to settle back into old patterns, and before long I was complaining about the prices of drinks on campus and fighting for a seat on the bus to town. The only difference was that this time I was openly celebrating drinking soda with lime cordial (finally), and paying for the bus with a £20 note as opposed to exact change (a luxury). Catching up with friends didn’t feel like a whole year had passed, and the awkwardness I’d worried about just didn’t appear. It was a little surreal being back in Starbucks in Southampton High Street after so long, but this time I savoured my toffee nut mocha, knowing I couldn’t get that flavour in Canada.
Today marks the 10month anniversary of my Canadian adventure, and also one month until I arrive back home for my Christmas Vacation (Holiday Roooooooooaaaad). It’s been 10 months since I saw my friends, 10 months since I walked my dogs, and 10 months since I had dinner with my family. When I first booked my flight back I was disappointed to be returning home so early in December as it wasn’t ideal to be using up so many of my previous vacation days at this time of year. In reality it turns out I’ll have plenty to spare after all, and the timing is in fact perfect. I have had an amazing 2011 and couldn’t be happier in Vancouver (well, the Canucks could pick up their game this season), but I am beyond excited to be returning home for three and half weeks.
Those of you who know me will not be surprised to know that the planning has well and truly started. Facebook messages have been sent, dinner reservations made and travel plans arranged. When I arrive back at the airport the boy and I will be heading out separate ways. Him to spend some time with friends in London and me to go straight back home with my family, where I’ll spend a relaxing few days being jet lagged, playing on the Wii and eating British cheese.
It’s my birthday on December 14th, and I’m celebrating with my family and grandparents during the day then meeting the boy in London that evening. From there we’ll travel onto Southampton to catch up with friends before stopping off in Winchester on the way to Basingstoke to visit my other grandparents on the way back home. The next few days will be spent travelling in and out of London and more coffee, lunch and dinner dates before returning home for Christmas. I’ll be visiting Cambridge between Christmas and New Year, then seeing in 2011 back in London before flying back out to Vancouver in early January (date TBC when flight is eventually booked).
It’s going to be a busy few weeks, but one I absolutely cannot wait for. I’m excited to see my friends, excited to see my family, and excited to see just how I’ll feel about being back in the UK after my year away. The strangest part of the whole trip will be not being at work for over three weeks, which is hard to imagine after the craziness of the past few months. Checking out of my Canadian life and back into the UK will be a little like stepping into a parallel universe, and I can’t wait to find out what I’ve missed. The countdown to Christmas is well and truly on!
Most of us are familiar with Thanksgiving in the United States. Everyone has a day off work at the end of November to give thanks to the Native Americans for looking after the Pilgrims when they first arrived in New England. Ironic? Yes. Celebrated in Canada? No. Canadian Thanksgiving is totally unrelated to US Thanksgiving, and history suggests it pre-dates its American counterpart. In Canada, Thanksgiving takes place on the second Monday in October, and is more of a glorified harvest festival than a colonial tradition. Everybody still gets a day off work (well, all of the Central and Western provinces) but the focus remains very much on the food. And food there is a-plenty.
The Thanksgiving menu is very similar (alright, basically the same) in both countries: turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, yams (otherwise known as sweet potatoes), vegetables and the infamous pumpkin pie. For our first Thanksgiving in Canada, we decided to cook a small yet civilized meal for us and a friend and make the most of our new kitchen. Rather than roast an entire turkey for three people, we went for turkey breasts instead. We stuffed each one with garlic, mushroom and cranberries, covered them with prosciutto ham, roasted them until tender and served the skin separately on top. Our vegetables consisted of broccoli and cauliflower with bacon sprinkles, accompanied by a mix of potatoes, sweet potatoes and squash. All covered in gravy, of course.
Today’s blog post is slightly momentous (aren’t they all?) as I’m writing it from the living room of apartment number three. Last week we packed up our worldly goods for the fourth time in 10 months and moved across the bridge to Downtown Vancouver. It turns out I’m building quite the collection of ‘stuff’ as our belongings have gone from filling three suitcases to filling a Ford Escape SUV. With the seats down. This, however, is of little importance to me because we have a walk in closet and a storage locker in the basement, which means I’m allowed to collect all the rubbish I like. So there.
Anyway, on with the apartment itself. So we’re living in the heart of Downtown, just around the corner from the main intersection of Robson and Burrard. We’re on the top floor of a seven storey building, and we have a balcony that looks out at a number of apartment buildings and offices. We’re less than a minute’s walk from a supermarket, a Starbucks, a pub and a Cineplex, and we can see into our gym from the living room (now that’s motivation). Most importantly, we’re less than three blocks from the SkyTrain station, which means our office move at the end of the month will slash my morning commute to approximately fifteen minutes. Oh yes.
The apartment itself is really, really lovely. Although I’m going to miss living in our beloved beachside community of Kits, I won’t miss old buildings with water issues and broken elevators. Our new building isn’t super new, but the apartment is very recently refurbished with a brand new kitchen and bathroom. The last lick of paint went on the ceiling the day we moved in, and it’s so exciting to be living in a new and modern environment. It’s a one bedroom, but the open plan living/kitchen area means that it still feels spacious, and it’s great to finally have a dining table with actual chairs!
This week, the final of September, is an important one. It’s officially the start of fall, and it’s the season premier of Gossip Girl. But even more importantly, it marks the end of 8 weeks of visitors to Vancouver. 41 of the previous 54 days have been spent hosting guests from across the pond, and all of a sudden I’m finding myself without friends or family, and experiencing quite the range of emotions.
First out of the gate were my boyfriend’s family – Mum, Dad and 10 year old Nephew from a little village by the Brecon Beacons in mid-Wales. This was their first trip to a large, North American city (Orlando doesn’t count) and we weren’t 100% sure how it would go, but they loved all of their 14 days (despite the obvious culture shock) and can’t wait to return! Next in line were my brother and his girlfriend, and their 6 day visit was part of a larger post-graduation, North American trip. They also loved the city, particularly Grouse Mountain and Stanley Park. We then enjoyed a 10 day break, before two of our friends arrived from Southampton. They also had a fantastic week (there’s a running theme here), loved the shopping and the scenery, and spent their final night in Vancouver googling jobs in the city. Last but definitely not least were my parents. They were here for 11 days and squeezed in trips to Seattle and Whistler as well as Vancouver before they headed home a week ago today.
Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how I can simultaneously challenge myself, try new things and make the most of the beautiful Vancouver summer. The Grouse Grind was the first rung on my ladder to outdoor adventure, but this still wasn’t enough. Don’t get me wrong, getting up the mountain was hard. Very hard. But not in the same league as getting down the mountain strapped into an oversized kite. You got it, I wanted to paraglide. I knew the longer I thought about it the more likely I’d be to talk myself out of it, so when my latest visitors and I planned a trip to Grouse Mountain I got straight on the phone and shelled out $199 plus tax. Done. No backing out.
As it turns out, I wasn’t as tempted to back out as I thought I would be. It’s important at this stage to note that I’m pretty afraid of heights. I have trouble looking over high balconies, and sports like abseiling or bungee jumping scare the hell out of me. Tandem paragliding was my way to tackle this fear in a supervised, safe and hopefully fun environment. Being the research geek that I am, the first thing I did after booking my session (deliberately not before) was to Wikipedia paragliding. Apparently the paraglide is designed in such a way that makes equipment failure just about impossible. Good news. This does however mean that the vast, vast majority of paragliding accidents are down to pilot error. Hmmmm. I closed my eyes and prayed for a good ‘un.
The morning of my flight rolled around, and I was surprisingly calm. My stomach was twisting more at the thought of hiking the Grouse Grind for a second time (oh no, I wasn’t taking the gondola up or down the mountain that day) than of throwing myself off the side of a mountain. I didn’t even feel a twinge of fear when the time came to meet my instructor, Todd, and attach myself to a paraglide. I started to tell him how nervous I was that I wasn’t nervous, but he interrupted me to tell me to walk forward, and before I could finish my sentence we were in the air.
Now that the sun has finally hit the West Coast of British Columbia I’ve been making more of an effort to do all the things I read about in the guidebooks. Swimming at Kitsilano Outdoor Pool, jogging round the seawall and drinks at Granville Island have all been great fun to tick off the list, however my latest adventure was a little less relaxing. The Grouse Grind is a 2.9 kilometre hike up the side of Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver, is open from May to November, and is the alternative to taking the four minute gondola ride up from the mountain base. ‘Up’ being the operative word. The trail consists solely of steps and rocks, and is a relentless climb with an elevation of 2,800 feet. Despite this, Grouse Mountain estimate that over 100,000 people a year complete the hike. The average time to get to the top is up to 90 minutes, though the current course record is 25:01. No pressure then.
As well as being one of those things you just have to do whilst in Vancouver, the Grouse Grind is a fantastic workout. With over 2,830 steps, they don’t call it ‘Mother Nature’s Stairmaster’ for nothing. This is why I decided to tackle the Grind for the first time this week whilst on a visit to the mountain with my brother and his girlfriend. I set them up with their lift tickets, handed them my backpack with a change of clothes, pointed them in the direction of the gondola, and off I went to the entrance. I’d been building up to this day for a while and was surprisingly nervous. The fact that the Grind had been closed for some hours that morning due to a medical emergency didn’t help. I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach as if I was about to walk in front of a million people and make an important speech. In French. Naked. Nevertheless, I took a deep breath and set off.