This morning, the topic of my blog came up in a conversation with my parents. I immediately googled “marmite to maple” to see when the last time I updated this thing was, and its been over a year since I posted anything. Landing on the home page was a strange experience; I barely recognized it as my own and felt more like an outsider stumbling across some else’s site. The blog was a huge part of my life when I first moved to Canada, and provided me with some much-needed consistency through my early months and years here. Unexpectedly, it also helped me meet a lot of people, and coffee chats or drinks with fellow Brits abroad were quite common for a while. Then as time went on, I realized that the original purpose of my blog was no longer relevant. I started it to keep in touch with friends and family back home, and to share advice for others thinking about moving to Canada. Almost eight years later, I’ve run out of ‘new Canadian things’ to post about and my experiences moving to Vancouver are now very much out of date. So, what now?
I’m not sure at this point which direction this post is going, other than that so far I’m writing about how I don’t know what to write about. Does anyone even read this anymore? I know Karl’s Mum does. Hi Karl’s Mum! Other than that, is anyone alive out there? In the blogosphere, no one can hear you scream. Anyway, moving on…
Let’s start with where the time has gone. 2017 was a big year, and part of my failure to blog is just down to lack of time. I got married, hosted family and friends from across the world in Vancouver, went on an amazing honeymoon, applied for Canadian citizenship, celebrated ten years with the now-husband, turned 30 and spent my first Christmas with my parents in five years. Actually, that all happened in the final four months of the year, but there was a lot of planning leading up to it all. I guess I should share some photos with you (whoever “you” are), so here you go!
And then all of a sudden it was 2018. Another big year and one that I’m really excited about. I’m maximizing my 15 days of vacation to travel to three new places: Copenhagen at the end of May for what is going to be an amazing wedding (with whistle-stop UK tour en-route), Australia in September to visit the bestie who left Vancouver in January for a year of sunshine and surf (sad times…but I get to visit her, yay!) and Calgary, Banff, Canmore and the rest of those damn beautiful Rocky Mountains in October for my brother’s wedding! The latter has been on my Canadian bucket list ever since moving here and we just never quite got round to it, so I’m forever grateful to my brother and his fiancee for choosing such an amazing place to get married. Thank you! We’re also going to squeeze in a long weekend in Cannon Beach in the summer, because that’s what we do and I really missed not being there last summer (damn wedding).
The other big thing happening this year is that I will officially become a Canadian citizen! The husband and I applied pretty much as soon as we were eligible at the end of August 2017, wrote our citizenship test in January 2018 (We both nailed it with 20/20, but that’s a whole other blog post) and just this week got our notification of our ceremony in March. In 27 days, we’ll be standing in a boardroom with a bunch of other newbs swearing an oath to the Queen and singing O Canada in English and French. Ooh la la! Three business days later, we’ll be applying for our shiny blue Canadian passports aka everlasting freedom from US visa waivers. (There’s a sarcastic comment about blue passports floating here somewhere, but I’m not sure what it is. The right blue passport? Blue passports seem to be trending? Year of the blue passport?) It will be a huge milestone for us and one that I definitely didn’t see coming when I rocked up to Vancouver for a working holiday in January 2017.
Tying in with the citizenship thing, I’m also in the process of changing my last name to the husband’s so that said shiny new passport will include my shiny new name. For some reason, a lot of people have a lot of opinions about my decision to change my name (mostly negative ones), but its 2018 and I’ll do what I want. So that’ll be something different.
Maybe I’ll leave it there for today. I will write a post at some point about the Canadian citizenship process as a lot of people are going through it now the rules have changed and it’s the one piece of knowledge I have that’s actually timely and relevant. Until then, enjoy your burrito y’all.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2014 was the year I finally saw some of BC, and then left BC and saw some of Alberta. I also saw a lot of other places too, some familiar and some new. I was a self employed contractor for the whole of 2014 which meant I could take as much time off as would fit around work, and I made the most of that flexibility. I did a LOT of things in 2014 (start a couple of new contracts, pass the Certified Human Resources Professional exam, invest in some personal development courses), but my travels have definitely been the highlight. Below is a snapshot of the 15+ cities I visited over the past 12 months.
My first trip of the year was just a day in Whistler at the end of January, but was still a little bit of a big deal. I hadn’t been on the Whistler slopes since a few hours’ skiing in April 2011, and I hadn’t ever snowboarded before. Even though Whistler is so close to Vancouver that it’s practically considered a ‘local mountain’, snowboarding there was still something to check off the bucket list.
February arrived, as did my parents. They came to visit for 10 days, the last of which I spent with them in Seattle (technically we’re into March now). I’d been to Seattle a couple of times before and never really loved the place, but this time I took a short ferry trip to sunny Bainbridge Island. It reminded me of Bowen Island and Gibsons, very small and laid back with some fun little shops and great ice cream. That trip made me want to give Seattle another shot. Hopefully I’ll get my chance this year.
On July 1, 2013, Canada turned 146. This year, I was much more excited about celebrating my new country’s birthday than I was in 2012. After the excitement of my first Canada Day in Vancouver in 2011, last year was a bit of an anti-climax. I’d seen the parade and the fireworks and wasn’t overly impressed by either of them. I can’t remember what I did to celebrate and it obviously wasn’t blog-worthy enough for me to write about.
This year was different. My brother had just arrived in Vancouver, as had the sunshine, and I was gagging for a long weekend after the craziness of starting my new job. Saying that, I did start my Canada Day by working…but it turned out to be a great decision as I was supporting our booth at Canada Place. The atmosphere was electric, with the hundred thousand people in attendance blurring into a sea of red and white. The Reconciliation Canada colours are pale blue and red, so we decided to try and stand out from the crowd by wearing blue. Stand out we did, and I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of tourists from outside Canada who had dressed in their Canada-branded best for the occasion. It was a hot day, and the two hours I spent in the sun handing out information about the Walk for Reconciliation in September flew by. The mood was definitely one of excitement and celebration, and I couldn’t help but catch some of it myself. I was inspired by the sight of a Citizenship Ceremony taking place in Canada Place in the afternoon; hopefully that will be me in a few years time!
My last post was about a very exciting day, and it just gets better with this post about a very exciting week. The reason for my increased excitement? I started a new job! You heard it here first (probably, unless I already told you), I’m beyond thrilled to be a part of the Reconciliation Canada team as of Thursday June 20th. It’s been quite the whirlwind couple of weeks featuring one very big and very difficult decision, after which the world started moving very quickly. In Canada, the standard resignation period is only two weeks (I know!) which doesn’t give you very long to wrap things up and move on.
This brings us nicely onto the next burning question…what exactly did I move on to? Here’s where the history lesson begins. You may or may not have heard about Indian Residential Schools, which were a network of government-funded boarding schools for Aboriginal peoples of Canada. The goal of the schools was to assimilate Aboriginal children into European-Canadian society, and the vision was described in a government document as ‘killing the Indian in the child’. They existed from the 1870’s, and when the Indian Act of 1920 made attendance at schools mandatory for Aboriginal children, Indian Residential Schools were the only option available in many areas. Approximately 150,000 Aboriginal children were forcibly taken from their homes by RCMP and forbidden to speak their own language from then on. Subsequent investigations show that 90-100% of children were subjected to extensive physical, emotional and sexual abuse and the mortality rate was 40-60%. The last Indian Residential School was closed in 1996, and this was followed by a 2006 Settlement Agreement which provided funding for reconciliation initiatives and minimal compensation for survivors who could prove that they attended an Indian Residential School. In 2008 the Canadian Government issued a formal apology for the creation of the schools and of previous governments’ policies of assimilation. The long term impact of Indian Residential Schools can still be seen today, with second and third generations of Aboriginal people whose perspective on the education system has been changed forever.
When I first learned about the extent of the suffering of children and their families, I was shocked that something as barbaric as this cultural genocide happened not only here in Canada, but so recently. Did you know that the Indian Act in Canada was used as a blueprint for oppression during arpartheid in South Africa? I didn’t. As a new immigrant, these extreme policies go against everything I’ve seen and heard about Canadian history, and it seems that Indian Residential Schools are a topic brushed under the carpet even among Canadians. This is where Reconciliation Canada, my new employer comes in. In the spirit of Nam’wiyut (we are all one), the initiatives of Reconciliation Canada create opportunity for Canadians, Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians, to learn about the impacts of residential schooling, heal together by sharing knowledge and experience, and develop strategies for moving forward in a mutually positive manner. It’s not about blame, politics or money, but about providing opportunities for reconciliation through dialogue workshops, community outreach and a series of large-scale awareness events during Vancouver’s Reconciliation Week in September 2013. That’s a whole other blog post – stay tuned this summer! I was lucky enough to spend my first day on the job at the City of Vancouver Year of Reconciliation Summit, and I got to watch Mayor Gregor Robertson officially proclaim June 21st 2013 to June 20th 2014 as the Year of Reconciliation in Vancouver. To give you an idea of how awesome this is, there hasn’t been an official Year of Anything in Vancouver, ever!
So that’s a very brief background on the organization, but it wasn’t just the mission that excited me. My new position is Director of Volunteer Engagement and I’ll be developing and implementing processes for recruiting, screening, selecting, training, motivating and evaluating volunteers. It’s a unique and exciting opportunity to use the skills I’ve learned in my previous roles and build a completely new program from scratch. It’s a big step up for me and it definitely won’t be easy, but it’s an opportunity that I felt I couldn’t turn down at this point in my career. One of the reasons that this was such a big decision is that it is a contract role with an end date of October 31st. After that – who knows? I don’t know for sure what I want to do next in my career, so this way I have some time to really think about my next step so I can be strategic in what I apply for next. It’s actually pretty liberating!
The other reason that this was such a big decision is that I have had an amazing two and a half years with the Canadian Cancer Society, with the opportunity to work towards another meaningful mission. I’ve been lucky enough to work with a fantastic group of staff and volunteers, and it’s been a non-stop learning experience. That said, even though I’ve moved on in a paid capacity I’ll always be an advocator of cancer prevention, research and support, and you’ll still be seeing all of those Daffodil Month tweets in April! For the moment, I’m focusing on getting my feet under the table at Reconciliation Canada (which includes navigating buses across the Lionsgate Bridge!) and to enjoying a memorable summer in Vancouver.
– Connect with me on LinkedIn here: http://ca.linkedin.com/in/elizabethgross/
Recently I’ve found myself experiencing ‘that feeling’. You know the one; when you’re certain that somewhere, sometime you’ve already experienced the thing you’re doing now. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you’re either re-living a past life or there’s a glitch in the matrix. Fortunately for me I’m 99% sure I haven’t been reincarnated and Keanu Reeves is nowhere to be seen. Instead, the time has finally come that I’ve been in Vancouver for over a year and I really am starting to do, see and experience things for the second time.
My earliest weeks in Canada shaped my time here in the same way that most people find when they move somewhere new. The coffee chain you visit, the bars you drink at and the stores you shop at soon become habit for no other reason than the fact you don’t really know what else to do or where to go. Humans naturally crave routine, and in particular a safe routine, so when a group of 38 young people land in a new country they tend to cling to the things that work out well the first time around. Case in point: The hostel we stayed at when we first arrived was on the seedy, central strip that is Granville Street, so we spent our first few weeks exploring the bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants in the near vicinity. Although I now spend as little time there as possible (it turns out there are far, far nicer places in Vancouver) I still have a soft spot for the Speakeasy Bar & Grill we went to on our second night, and the BG Urban Cafe we used to go to for lunch. I like to think my horizons have definitely been broadened in terms of exploring Vancouver, but I do get a little sentimental thinking about what I was doing a year ago.
My first ‘flashback’ occurred when I saw a poster advertising the February 2012 Hot Chocolate Festival, which was one of the first events I remember from when I arrived. While I didn’t actually partake in any hot chocolate drinking in February 2011, I still felt a jolt realizing that this was a festival I’d already seen before. I felt the same when I read that Dine Out Vancouver (an amazing two weeks where restaurants offer set menus at huge discounts) was coming up again. In 2011 I went to Las Margaritas mexican restaurant in Kitsilano for their $18 set menu, and to this day it is still one of my favourite (if not my actual favourite) places to eat out. The same goes for the Chinese New Year Parade, Illuminate Yaletown and Winterruption Festival at Granville Island.
Ever since the temperature dropped back down below 20 degrees in September, I have been looking forward to the second best time of year in Vancouver (or I imagine, anywhere in North America): Christmas! I’ve been feeling somewhat festive since mid-November this year, which is unusual for me as I have a tendency to forgo anything that smells remotely like Christmas until after my birthday on December 14th. This might have had something to do with the fact that I was flying home on December 10th, so I had only 10 days to fit in all the merriment that was on offer.
First up were the ‘unofficial’ activities; the kind you don’t have to pay for. Vancouver is a haven of free festive fun at Christmas time, as everything from street lighting to hotel lobbies become a tourist attraction. The Hyatt hosted a gingerbread village with lifelike models of gingerbread sceneries, the Four Seasons displayed a Festival of (beautifully decorated) Trees and walking through the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver was like stepping into Home Alone 2. Robson Street was lovely as ever with its golden fairy lights lining the streets, and the Lights of Hope decorating St. Paul’s Hospital were bright (if not a little tacky for my liking).
Speaking of tacky, one of the first ‘official’ activities I booked was the Stanley Park Bright Nights, which the website describes as ‘the most spectacular lighting display in Canada’. There is no doubt that the lights were bright, though the main plaza was less beautiful-romantic-fairy-lights and more oh-god-why-didn’t-I-bring-my-sunglasses. The little train ride taking us on a tour of the displays reminded me of a British theme park as I shrank away from glow in the dark santas and back lit cardboard cut-outs of choir boys. To be fair the kids seemed to love it, and I’m sure the train and accompanying festive snacks (think waffles, chestnuts and popcorn) is a great treat for families. Personally I just found it all a bit random, and definitely not worth the $23.50 for two tickets. We decided to skip the snacks and jump on the bus back to Downtown for some sushi.
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!
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.