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later, I’ve run out of ‘new Canadian things’ to post about and my experiences moving to Vancouver are now very much out of date.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.
One of the first things you learn when moving to Vancouver is that the rest of the country doesn’t consider you quite as “Canadian” as they are. You don’t have to shovel snow, break ice or wrap up in temperatures that include bigger numbers below zero in the winter than we get above zero in the summer. We don’t get snow very often, but when we do the city tends to grind to a halt amid cries of ‘we never get snow!’. As someone who has only lived here for six years, I know that is not technically true. It was snowing as I got off the bus from the airport in January 2011 and it snowed again in November 2014, as proven by my instagram feed.
Saying that, I do agree that this winter’s snow has been particularly awesome/awful (depending on your reliance on public transit). The first snowfall was in early December and it stuck around long enough to make the city look beautiful…until it turned to slush.
A few days later, all anyone could talk about was the ‘snowmageddon’ that was predicted for the weekend. It was nice to have another smattering, but it wasn’t quite the blizzard that was expected. Still, we made the most of it.
The biggest snowfall came in mid-December and this time it did turn much of the city into a winter wonderland. Walking the dog was like something out of a movie as every area of open space was full of children making snowmen, dogs running around off the leash (shocking!) and snowboarders riding down the small slope to the beach. At was just before this snowfall that I ordered a new winter coat. As soon as I put it on I felt a bit stupid as Vancouver winters rarely call for anything more than a standard coat, however this fresh snowfall validated my purchase and kept me warm during all the morning dog walks.
The highlight of December was of course our annual pilgrimage to Mount Baker, WA where we celebrated Christmas with four days in a cabin. We were slightly nervous about the roads as we knew it had been snowing pretty hard down there, but we arrived safe and sound and enjoyed our whitest Christmas yet.
Vancouver was welcomed into 2017 by some more snow, which put a freeze (geddit?) on many people’s New Year’s Eve plans but did make for a pretty first dog walk of the year the morning after.
Unfortunately for me this week, what comes down then turns into a thick layer of ice that has left barely a sidewalk, road or path uncovered. I had an embarrassing (and only mildly painful) fall on the seawall this week, and the worst part was that I lost my apartment key during the process. D’oh! Those Vancouverites who are better at me than balancing on ice have been pictured skating on frozen streets and lakes in scenes that look like a Tim Horton’s commercial. Who’s Canadian now, eh?
There’s no more snow forecast for the next couple of weeks, which is probably a good thing as Vancouver has become somewhat of a joke on the national and international meme circuit. Either way, the weather has already done to justify my wearing of my new big coat for the rest of the winter. Which of course, is the most important thing.
Last summer my brother and his girlfriend very generously gave us a gift certificate for a motor boat rental as an engagement present. The rest of last summer was a blur of engagement celebrations, pre-planned trips and both sets of parents visiting, and the first part of this summer was a blur of clouds and rain, so we finally got around to heading out on the water a couple of weeks ago. Booking through Granville Island Boat Rentals was easy, and the best part is we could take Dave with us too!
When the day came, we headed to Granville Island after work feeling a little apprehensive about being trusted with a boat for an hour after having had zero experience driving one. The safety briefing was both essential and useful and included pointing to hazards on a map and getting in one of the boats for a demo. Suddenly, they were untying our boat from the dock and we were slowly making our way under the Granville Bridge and out to the bay.
We were lucky enough to go out on a boat in Vancouver for the first time earlier this summer for a wedding celebration where we went round Stanley Park, under the Lionsgate Bridge and around Coal Harbour, so our initial plan for this trip was to head west along the coast of Kits and down to UBC. Unfortunately, when we looked at the map the whole of the area we wanted to explore was marked orange for ‘hazard’, meaning the water was too shallow for us to get close to the shore. Instead, we headed out into the bay where it looked pretty crowded with freight ships and other boats from the shore, but was actually fairly quiet when we got out there. I enjoyed scaring the man by zipping round the huge freight ships that looked even more daunting up close.
By this time, the dog had gone from sitting up and watching where we were going to hitting the deck (the man’s lap) and hiding from the wind and the noise of the engine. It got quite bumpy whenever we got caught in a bigger boat’s wake, so we let him lie down in peace.
After weaving in and out of the freight ships, we managed to swap seats so the man could drive, which is no easy feat with a terrified puppy pretending to be starfish. We headed over to West Vancouver and came back down the coast to the Lionsgate Bridge, then turned back out into the bay to follow Stanley Park back round to English Bay. It was at this point that one of the alarms we were warned about went off. It wasn’t the alarm telling us we were going to fast in a slow zone, it was the other slightly more terrifying depth alarm telling us that we were too close to shore and were at risk of hitting the rocks. We quickly turned back out into the bay and made sure to keep our distance for the rest of the journey back.
We managed to time our hour’s rental with one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in Vancouver this year. Coming back under the Burrard and Granville Bridges as the lights were coming on in the city was beautiful, as was looking behind me to see the sun setting over the water.
The hour went by pretty quickly but it was a good amount of time for us, especially given the dog. If I was in a dog-free group I would definitely go for longer, as it’s possible to get as far as Bowen Island or up to Indian Arm with a 2 or 3-hour rental.
Thanks Chris and Holly for our awesome engagement present, what an amazing and unique Vancouver experience!
The Oregon Coast is my absolute happy place. The whole state is ridiculously amazing and we had a fantastic time exploring the Columbia River Gorge, Bend and Crater Lake last summer, but something about the coast always makes me feel like I’m coming home. The goonies-loving man says that Astoria in particular is his ‘spiritual home’ and getting out of the car at Rogue Brewery is when I know I’m really on vacation.
This year was our fifth consecutive BC Day long weekend trip to Oregon (sorry, BC) and we packed a lot into the three full days we had there. This particular trip was a mix of some of our favourite places (Astoria, Cannon Beach, Ecola State Park, Oswald West State Park, Cape Meares, Oceanside) and some new places too (Netarts Bay, Anderson’s Viewpoint, the top of the sand dune at Cape Kiwanda). As we only had three days we stuck to the Northern towns and split our time between the Hearthstone Inn at Cannon Beach and an Airbnb in Netarts Bay.
I decided to play videographer on this trip, partly to test out the video capabilities of my new iPhone 6S. It turns out the footage is scarily better than our previous videos using our little kodak camera (that I forgot on this trip). So that’s good to know. I love documenting snapshots in time through photo and video and before making this I watched a number of our older videos including our group trip to Hawaii, our first ever Christmas in Canada and our first year with Dave. It was a really fun and moving half hour or so, and I may have shed more than one happy tear looking back on some amazing memories.
So here’s another one to add to the list. I was videographer, director and producer for this one, which means I only actually make an appearance in front of the camera twice. However, if you like boston terriers, bearded men and beaches then please enjoy this Marmite to Maple production: Oregonna Make A Great Movie (tagline by James).
Talking about the Oregon coast is one of my favourite things in the world, so if you have any questions or are looking for trip planning advice, get in touch.
The annual BC summer cabin weekend has become a fun tradition for the man, my brother, his girlfriend and I. 2014 was Bowen Island, 2015 was Galiano Island and this year we decided to stick with the Gulf Islands theme and head to neighbouring Mayne Island. Canada Day fell on a Friday this year, so we took the opportunity to book an afternoon ferry and get an early start to the weekend.
We went without a car to keep costs down so all of our exploring was on foot. We’d read that hitchhiking is common on the island and that locals will often offer tourists a ride to their accommodation from the ferry, and were very happy when that happened to us and we didn’t have to walk the 20 minutes uphill to our cabin. Unfortunately it turned out that the cabin was a two-minute walk rather than a 20-minute walk (thanks Google Maps), and it getting all of us plus luggage in and out of the car was way more exhausting than the short walk would have been. Regardless, we were happy to be settled into our awesome cabin with three bedrooms, a living comfy area, a full kitchen and an obscene number of decks. Airbnb for the win.
We spent Friday night relaxing at the cabin and got up on Saturday ready to explore the island. As previously mentioned, all exploring was to be done without a car. We’d read that the main town area, Miners Bay, was about a 20-minute walk from the cabin so we headed out in search of coffee and groceries. It felt longer than 20 minutes and we rewarded ourselves with drinks at the pretty Shavasana Cafe, lunch from Sunny Mayne Bakery Cafe and some groceries, beer and cider from The Trading Post. We weren’t keen on walking all the way back with our bags so hung out at the designated hitchhiking ‘car stop’ until another friendly local picked us up. It was another tight squeeze (this time around a car seat) but we were happy for the ride.
Back at the cabin we loaded up our cooler bags for island exploration part two: the beach. We looked at the map and Dinner Bay seemed like the closest option. This time, it really was only a 20-minute walk (though mostly uphill) and we settled down on the pebble beach. The rapidly rising tide and army of ants meant we didn’t stay long, but it was nice to see some of the island.
Usually when we go away we’ll spend most of the weekend BBQ-ing everything in sight, but this cabin didn’t have a BBQ. Instead, we decided to go out for dinner to try the main restaurant on the island, The Groove Island Kitchen, and timed our walk with the traffic coming off the ferry so that we could hitch another ride. We got the last table on the patio, and although the restaurant was out of burgers (outrageous…) we all enjoyed our meals. We did end up walking home, but it went pretty quickly after we found a shortcut through the trees from the main road to the back of our cabin. Success!
Sunday was another lazy day as we were lucky enough to be able to stay in the cabin until our late afternoon ferry. It was a hot one, so we made our own fun with a hosepipe and stints on the sofa cooling off. The views from the ferry on the way back to Tsawwassen were particularly stunning and were a great sales pitch for coming back to visit another one of the Gulf Islands next year.
More info about Mayne Island can be found here at Hello BC.
The May long weekend is the same weekend every year, but somehow it always seems to creep up on me. This year I forgot about it until a couple of weeks before, when a panicked Air BnB search revealed exactly two available pet-friendly properties within a reasonable distance and budget. Unfortunately they were both on the sunshine coast and the BC Ferries reservation system only showed how organized everyone else was at booking ferries in advance. Not helpful.
We decided to embrace our non-existent travel options and stay at home for a relaxing weekend in the city. After all, we’re supposed to be cutting back on trips this year and saving for the wedding. That’s what I told myself when I redid my Air BnB search just a few days before the weekend and this time came up with zero properties (didn’t fancy a trailer in a barn on Salt Spring Island).
Saturday morning came, and I decided that the man and I should write lists of possible things to do and then compare and come up with a super list to get us through the weekend. This exercise started well and we did enjoy some delicious Saturday night craft cocktails at Long Table Distillery, a gin and vodka tasting room a few blocks away that I’d never been to. Unfortunately this didn’t quite hit the spot, and we ended up doing another last minute search for a Sunday night getaway, this time on Hotels.com. I broadened my search to include the States and up popped Anacortes, a little harbour town in Western Washington that is known for being the launch point for ferries to the San Juan Islands. Google Maps said it was two hours away, TripAdvisor said there were some nice parks and viewpoints, Yelp said there was a decent coffee shop and a brewery and Hotels.com said there was a pet-friendly hotel right in the middle of the historic downtown. Done, done, done and done.
Anacortes turned out to be the perfect destination for a one-night getaway. It actually took closer to three hours to get there (apparently the rest of Vancouver decided to head down to the border at the same time as us) but we’d somehow left on time for once so weren’t in any rush. We stayed at the gorgeous Majestic Inn and Spa where we were given freshly ground coffee and a complimentary dog goodie bag on arrival. We saw and did a surprising amount in 24 hours and my highlights are below.
Washington Park is a bit like a much smaller version of Vancouver’s Stanley Park. It juts out on the end of the peninsula and is just a 10 minute drive from Downtown Anacortes. We parked in the day use area and walked the tree-lined, 2-mile loop road around the outside of the park (you can drive it, but the sun was out and it’s an easy walk). We took the opportunity to explore some of the trails that branched off the main road and the spectacular views of the San Juan Islands made up for the very confusing, completely unmarked trails. Dogs are welcome on a leash and Dave very much enjoyed his walk.
While I was driving us to Washington Park, James saw what looked like a huge old ship growing out of the ground and sprouting trees. On the way back we took a number of very sketchy tracks down to the marina before finding what actually was a huge old ship that was practically growing out of the ground and definitely sprouting trees. A local drinking beer on the marina’s tiny beach told us that the La Merced was a Schooner that ran aground in the 1970s and was salvaged by the Croatian owners of the marina. They filled it with sand and turned it into their breakwater. It was pretty spooky looking and worth the abrupt roadside stop.
The downside of travelling with a dog during spring is that it’s rarely warm enough to eat outside and be 100% comfortable. We got very lucky on this trip as we found a pub with a pet-friendly, heated beer garden that was so good we went for both lunch and dinner. Dinner was a particularly awesome experience full of unexpected local flavour. From the excitable man who greeted us with ‘Oh you’re English? What’s the difference between afters and dessert?’ and the inebriated lady spending the night in a wheelchair after losing a dare to the woman who tried to prove James can look good in a hat (she failed) and the guy who whipped out a parrot from under his hoodie after half an hour of conversation, it was one of the most welcoming places I’ve ever been. The deep fried mac and cheese wedges weren’t half bad either.
This little viewpoint is a 5 minute drive out of the historic district and gave us a great view of Anacortes. This is where most of the pictures of Anacortes that are on postcards and guidebooks were taken, so it was fun to see that in person. You don’t even need to get out of the car to see the view if you don’t want to, though I recommend a quick climb on the rocks.
Deception Pass State Park is only 20 minutes from Anacortes and was highly recommended on TripAdvisor, however we didn’t have enough time to explore to justify the $20 entry fee. Instead, we stuck to the highway and drove through the middle of the park to see what is actually two bridges that connect Fidalgo Island (where Anacortes is – not technically an island) with Whidbey Island. There is a little island right in the middle with free parking and a viewpoint with a plaque explaining how Capt. George Vancouver ‘discovered’ and named the area (he gets around). Here you can take the steps down and under the bridge, or walk across if you’re not terrified of heights and/or carrying a squirming Boston Terrier.
The final sight on our list was the top of Mount Eerie, another easy to access viewpoint with a road running right up to the top (you can also hike up from the bottom if you’re feeling energetic). The views were stunning and the windy drive up the switchbacks was well worth the 10 minute detour on the way back from Deception Pass.
Even though we were only in Anacortes for 24 hours, we did and saw a lot and felt like we were on a proper vacation. I’m a particularly intense travel planner, so for me there’s something so special about a spontaneous, last-minute trip where everything just falls into place. I would almost go as far as to say I enjoyed this get away more than our trip to California in April (no tattoos this time though). It was the perfect way to spend a long weekend.
I definitely have two sides to my personality. One side is incredibly organized, always plans ahead and won’t go anywhere or do anything without reading reviews on both TripAdvisor and Yelp (and then cross-referencing the two). The other side is spontaneous and impulsive and likes to annoy the first side by doing things like making irresponsible expensive purchases, going skydiving and getting vacation tattoos….apparently.
The few weeks after getting my first tattoo last year were pretty much solely devoted to planning my next one, and the one after that, and the one after that. I decided not to book anything (I’ve learned to recognize when I should ignore the spontaneous side) and the moment passed. 13 months later, I still had only the one tattoo. Then I went on vacation to Southern California.
On our last night in Hermosa Beach, the man and I went out for some late night drinks in an awesome ‘locals’ bar, and half a cider later I’d decided that I needed to have the outline of a wave etched into my left rib. The tattoo on my wrist features the city and the mountains so something representing the beach could be seen as a natural and logical addition, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what I was thinking. I honestly can’t remember how I ended up reading Yelp reviews of tattoo shops, but there we were at Hermosa Ink & Apparel just after their 11am opening time the following morning.
It was here that my commitment to spontaneity started to waiver slightly. We arrived at the store literally seconds behind another customer (she held the door open for me) who was going in to book an appointment for a later date, but ended up deciding to have her tattoo done there and then. This meant it would be a 45 minute wait for us. I initially said no and left in a mini-strop, angry that I hadn’t listened to the organized side of my personality which told me to get there at 11am on the dot. Instead, the spontaneous side suggested we go for a walk on the beach, making us 2 seconds later than the other girl and potentially meaning that we wouldn’t have time to get the tattoo because we were supposed to be in Santa Barbara by lunch. Maybe it was a sign that this wasn’t meant to be? The man convinced me that there are no such things as signs (and there aren’t, unless I want there to be) and that Santa Barbara would still be there an hour later, so I went back in and booked my appointment for 12pm. That gave us half an hour to sit in the bar next door and practice drawing a wave. It’s harder than it sounds. Luckily, the tattoo artist, Olivia, was infinitely better at drawing than I am (of course) so nothing I drew ended up anywhere near getting permanently inked on my body.
Olivia was great and it was a very quick tattoo. It hurt more than the one on my wrist, which I was expecting with my ribs, but it was over much quicker. It lasted just long enough for the man to decide that he wanted in on the vacation tattoo bandwagon too! I thought this display of spontaneity was a little excessive, partly because this was his first tattoo and mostly because it was on his hand! Before I could feel guilty for peer pressuring him into it, his was finished too and he absolutely loved it.
Weirdly enough, we both got water themed tattoos, though in NO way was this one of those ‘couples’ tattoo things. Saying that, I will always think of Hermosa Beach and of him whenever I look at my left rib, which is kind of cool.
Three weeks on, I still love my little wave. The main reason that this tattoo was an easy decision for me is that it’s always covered up, so I’ve barely seen it since it was done. I learned last time that a placement of a tattoo is important not because of what others might think when they see it, but what YOU might think when you see it. I cannot escape my wrist tattoo, which was incredibly overwhelming when I was first getting used to it. It is always in the corner of my eye. Luckily I still like it, but it taught me a lesson that even my spontaneous side will never forget. This time I didn’t have that concern as I’ll only see it when wearing a bikini (when my tattoo will be the least of my worries), so in the words of half-a-cider-Lizzie, ‘why not?’
January and I have never really gotten along. My birthday is 11 days before Christmas, so December has always had double the excitement and celebrations than if I was born in any other month of the year. I’ve travelled somewhere for the last five Christmases (back to England and also to the winter wonderland that is Mount Baker) which just makes coming home and facing January that much harder. Every year I swear that I’m going to book a trip at the end of January, just so I have something to look forward to. Every year I then realize that I have in fact spent all of my money on December. So every year starts with a blank calendar and an empty bank account. Turns out January isn’t for vacations, it’s for vacation planning.
In case you didn’t already know, I really, really like planning vacations. A trip just wouldn’t be as fun without the weeks (or months) of anticipation and preparation leading up to it. I generally always have something to look forward to, which is why January 2016 threw me a little bit.
The big wedding savings plan begins this month (date is set for August 2017, yay!), and I’m trying this radical new thing of only spending money that I have instead of putting vacations on credit cards. This means that most of the new places I wanted to go this year (Kauai, Costa Rica, Cuba) are now out of budget. It also means I’ll hopefully have an amazing honeymoon to look forward to at the end of next year, so I can skip the more exotic destinations this year. After a month of panicking about having nothing booked, we talked about what we really enjoy doing on vacation. Turns out, we’ve already been to some pretty amazing places that we’d like to see again. So this year’s vacation plan looks a little like this:
March – Mount Baker
Technically, this is the one trip that’s to somewhere new. We’ve been to the Mount Baker area for Christmas for the past three years, but never actually made it to the mountain (though we got really, really close in 2015). We’re heading up with friends for a ski weekend in March and I can’t wait! The chairlifts at Mount Baker don’t have safety bars, so fingers crossed I survive and make it through the rest of this list.
March – Seattle
I really, really, really loved my last trip to Seattle. We broke out of downtown and spent most of our weekend in the breweries, bars and coffee shops of Capitol Hill and Ballard. We’re going to go back and do it over again in March, this time with our amazing best friends and former Hawaii travel companions. We haven’t been away together since that trip in February 2012, and I can’t wait to go be hipsters together.
April – California Coast
After uming and ahing over where to go in the spring, we booked an extra long weekend in California that includes all of our favourite things: driving, the beach and small towns with great coffee. We’re staying in Hermosa Beach for three nights and then driving up to Santa Barbara for our final night (new destination!). I stopped by Hermosa Beach on a post-Coachella road-trip last year and loved it so much that I decided I was going to move there for three months this summer. Little did I know I was about to get engaged and start saving for a wedding, so that didn’t happen. But three nights is better than nothing!
August – Oregon Coast
Speaking of driving, the beach and small towns with great coffee…we’re heading back to Oregon for our August long weekend tradition. Last year we headed inland along the Columbia River Gorge and down to Bend which was so much fun, but this year I am dying to get back the coast to this stunning view:
December – New York
Our first vacation together was to New York in December 2008, and we’ve been talking about going back for a couple of years now. Eight years later we’re so much better at vacations. We know what we like to do (eat food), where we like to go (neighbourhoods outside of downtown) and what kind of activities we like to do (food again). Our last trip was amazing but I think that we’d have a very different experience this time. And I never did get to ice skate in Central Park.
There it is. A year of going back to places we know and love, just with a different spin. And now I can get back to my 18 months of honeymoon planning…
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!
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!).
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.
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.
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.