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.
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!
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!
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.
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!