For research purposes only, you understand ….

wine

There are few better pleasures to look forward to each day than collapsing onto a comfy sofa in an evening with a glass of vino.  Not a day goes by without hearing on the radio yet another ‘research article’ on whether 1 glass, 2 glasses, no glasses, red glass, white glass, whatever …. are good for your health, prolongs your life, or reduces it considerably.  I’m prepared to take the chance.  I don’t care whether it’s the latest fad or whether there’s proven evidence that drinking a glass a night is bad for you.  I wonder whether there’s been detailed research on the best or worst times of day to succumb ….. maybe I’ll have to volunteer ……

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Anyhow, one of the delights of being in Western Canada is that the Okanagan Valley, located in the south of British Columbia, is home to one of the most prolific wine-growing regions throughout Canada. It’s also a massive fruit-growing region with farmers stands at the sides of roads where you can purchase their mouth-watering produce, or even go in and pick some yourself from their overflowing fruit orchards.  Nestled between the temperate rainforests of coastal British Columbia, and the world’s only inland temperate forest on the western slopes of the Columbia mountains, it receives relatively low rainfall and enjoys hot temperatures – so attracts over 200 different commercial vineyards where nearly every style of wine is produced, with over 60 different grape varieties.  I’m on a mission to sample each one ….

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Since arriving in Canada, we’ve taken a keen interest in Canadian produce so given that one of the items from our bucket list was to visit a vineyard (or two), we thought we’d take a road trip to the next province and see what all the fuss is about.  For research purposes only, you understand …

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Now, having come from the UK, one of the things about living in Canada that we continuously struggle to appreciate, is the sheer vastness and scale of the country.   What looks like small distances on a map, are actually huge monster drives.  The Okanagan, for example, is fairly ‘close’ to Edmonton at just over 540 miles (870 km) away, taking at least 9 hours constant driving, during which you cross over the time-line, scale the Canadian Rockies, go through at least 3 national parks, traverse 2 mountain passes – witnessing the climate and dramatic scenery changes as you go.  It’s stunning.  Once you hit the Canadian Rockies, it’s virtually just one road too – the Trans-Canada highway – beside which for the most part, you travel alongside the Canadian Pacific Railway line and the huge red CPR freight trains that epitomise Canada.

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Once you reach the Okanagan, there are vineyards and fruit orchards galore.   The terrain reminded us of being in Tuscany in Italy, with huge lakes and rolling vineyards – it’s a beautiful place to visit.  There are local maps detailing where all the vineyards are, and you can drive in and sample their produce – oh, and purchase a few bottles too (it’d be rude not to).  For kids and adults alike, the lakes are superb to swim and play in – crystal clear waters and at various locations, activity platforms harness small zip-lines on which you can throw yourself in the lake.  You need to in those temperatures too ……

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But it’s the road trip through the Rockies and the national parks that is the most spectacular.  If you’re prepared to do some research, you can hunt out various stop-off points along the way which are just hidden off the main Trans-Canada highway – literally, within a few meters too.  Boardwalk trails which not only give you 20 mins to stretch your legs, are within steps of the parking lot, and can see you deep within the forest – walking amidst Giant Cedar trees, many of which are over 500 years old.  Just watch your tank of petrol during the road trip as the distances are so large and the availability of gas stations few and far between – it’s an extremely long walk if you run out!!

So, I’d definitely recommend it.  The road trip, the scenery, the lakes and the wine.  I may have to take a repeat trip …. for research purposes only, you understand …. 🙂

A brief change of scenery

New Westminster

One of the novelties of living in a country the size and scale of Canada, is that new experiences and opportunities to do things crop up which you would never previously have thought.  My oldest kid is a keen swimmer (see previous mentions and blogs), and aswell as competing at the provincial level – which sees her travel mostly between Edmonton and Calgary, there are a few opportunities to venture across Western Canada which appear in the swimming calendar during the year.  Back in December, she flew to Victoria on Vancouver Island with her swimming team just to compete – something at the age of 12 in the UK, I don’t think would ever have featured in the itinerary.

These last few days, I’ve flown with her to Vancouver for yet another competition.  It feels quite close to Edmonton being on the left hand side of the country, and yet is still 90 minutes on a plane and for those wishing to drive, a mere 12 hours in a car away.  Distances are deceptively large over here.

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Being a swimming competition, they are not always held in the traditional tourist locations, and this week is no different.  30 minutes outside Vancouver, we’re staying in New Westminster – just south-west of the main area of Vancouver and on the banks of the Fraser River.  Apparently, it was named by Queen Victoria after Westminster in London, and as a result gained its official nickname, ‘The Royal City’.  It’s a working river, and there are tugs and boats transporting huge logs all connected together up the river, plus huge mounds of sand and gravel, piled high and being heaved along on boat platforms.  It reminds you of the sheer scale of transportation which is used in Canada, alongside the huge Canadian Pacific Railway trains which seem to also predominantly focus on freight.

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It never ceases to amaze me the total difference in climate and geography compared to Edmonton.  Edmonton is extremely dry and flat – as is a large proportion of the whole Alberta province.  The recent devastating forest fires in Fort McMurray which are still being fought alongside many other fires across the region, lay testament to the challenges this poses when rainfall is so slight.  Everything is tinderbox dry and the province-wide fire ban has had to be enacted to try to minimise risks further.  It’s a dangerous situation – ironic when we generally spend 5 months a year under snow, but with colossal forests, mostly wooden building structures and very warm weather once the snow has gone, it’s a potent cocktail.

Now in Vancouver, it’s akin to arriving in Manchester, UK.  It’s green, wet, cloudy and humid.  Rain doesn’t seem to be far away, and I stifled a smile when the hotel informed me that an ‘extra amenity’ included in all rooms was the use of an umbrella.  I don’t think I’ve used one of those since I was last in the UK ….. I’ve enjoyed being re-acquainted.

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That said, you can never tire of the wonderful mountain views – it’s so nice to be in a place which isn’t flat.  You forget how much you miss having a hilly terrain when you’ve spent the vast portion of your life surrounded by them.  And the abundance of water, estuaries, bridges, rivers and sea is lovely – something you can only appreciate when you’ve not seen the coast in a very long time.

We’ve had to navigate ourselves on public transport – and get ourselves to the pool locations at daft times in a morning – all of which we’ve managed without major incident.  Thank goodness for modern technology and google maps……

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And food.  We could’ve resorted and played safe with the usual food chains that can be found dotted up and down the streets and avenues, but I’m a bit of a fanatic for sourcing out and discovering more authentic eateries and trying things that are different.  One of the swimming mum’s took us to a new ‘Trattoria’ that had recently been voted best new restaurant, and the food was delicious.  Portions were generous, the quality of the food was exceptional, with my oldest kid appreciating the supply of carbohydrates to provide the energy required for her races the following day.  I also discovered an asian eatery on the New Westminster Quayside, which provided good quality produce cooked healthily and was truly scrumptious.  Next door was a small bakery making all their own pastries and breads, alongside other artisans housed in a small building complex clearly trying to reinvigorate visitors to the Quay.  I may have to restrict my food intake for the next week to compensate for the last few days …

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We’re now down to our last day of competition and whilst my oldest is doing all the hard work, I’m enjoying the change of scenery and chance to explore along the boardwalk, parks and quayside.  Given another chance to visit Vancouver, for those that haven’t been I’d recommend the downtown area and waterfront every time, but for those looking to venture further afield, take a trip to New Westminster and you may be in for a pleasant surprise ……  🙂

 

Most of the pics are author’s own, but a few have been kindly obtained via google images 

Bears, Beers and Broomsticks …

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My blog has been absent for over a week – and with good reason.  We’ve been busy ticking off some of our items from our bucket list.  Unlike the UK, the schools in Alberta don’t get many breaks during the school year longer than one or two days at any time, with the exception of Christmas and Easter where we get just over a week.  It’s worth it in the longer run, as schools finish the third week of June and don’t go back until the second week of September, so it’s the equivalent of stacking all your presents up and having them in one long hit during the warmest and sunniest time of the year.  So, Easter is the prime time to take a short holiday – and we’ve been to Vancouver, one of the places on our bucket list to visit and explore.

I’m still amazed that being only in the next Province, it still takes just under 2 hours on a plane to reach – and with a complete change of landscape and climate too.  Rather like the UK, Vancouver sees a lot of rain, and with a temperate climate, it’s very green.  Having experienced snow, ice and a general ‘whiteness’ around everything for the last 5 months, the colours and wetter climate hit you as soon as you arrive.  The landscape too is wonderfully scenic – with mountains, sea and what feels like a greater history in the architecture and buildings.  It’s a lovely reminder of home.

Many would balk at the rain that was coming down like stair-rods on our arrival – but having not experienced rain for the last 6 months, it was a novelty and being from the north of England, a somewhat familiar experience.  Grab your raincoat and brolly, and just get on and ignore it – we had a great time.

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We spent the week gradually ticking off all the iconic stuff to do whilst in Vancouver.  There’s a superb seawall – a walk and cycleway (we did both during the week) that’s approximately 9km and takes you around Stanley Park.  It’s a public park just over 1000 acres, that is almost entirely surrounded by the waters of English Bay and Vancouver Harbour.  We saw a sea otter, watched the huge tankers anchored up waiting for their cargoes to arrive, sampled the fresh fish in one of the eateries around the park, and explored the park.  It’s also home to the Vancouver Aquarium which houses white beluga whales – which we’d never seen before.  Another first.  Very impressive and the range of sea-life and even a sloth (!) kept the kids entertained for a couple of hours.

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Downtown Vancouver looks out at the mountains to the North, and a trip across the harbour on the SeaBus and a local bus up towards Grouse Mountain is a must.  On our way, we stopped off at Capilano Suspension Bridge.  Built in 1889, it stretches 450 feet (137m) across and 230 feet (70m) above Capilano River – and takes you into the West Coast rainforest, a natural temperate rainforest where some of the oldest Douglas Fir trees are more than 1300 years old.  A treetop walk takes you 100ft up into the trees and allows you to see and experience the rainforest from a height – and with seven suspension bridges attached to the trees, it’s accessible to anyone and everyone.  Well worth a trip.

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Further up the road, Grouse Mountain is over 4000 ft high and ascended by either cablecar or by doing the famous ‘Grouse Grind’ – a 2.9km gruelling trail up the face of Grouse Mountain and commonly referred to as ‘mother nature’s stair-master’.  With 2,830 steps and taking the average person approximately 90 minutes to complete, experienced climbers can do it in 45 – it’s not for the faint-hearted.  Needless to say, we took the cablecar….

It’s well worth the view – overlooking Vancouver Harbour and beyond.  We were also in luck as 2 grizzly bears had just come out of hibernation a few weeks earlier and we managed to tick these off our bucket list too!

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What was most enjoyable, was the vast range of artisan shops and crafts you can visit and wander around.  Granville Island was our favourite, and also home to the Granville Island brewery (another item on our list), and Liberty Distillery.  ‘Taster menus’ offer selections of their nectars along with tasting notes which make for a truly pleasant experience.  Authentic coffee bars were also sought out – and well worth the effort of the find, compared to the commonplace commercial coffee establishments familiar to all across the world.  The coffees were equally a delight to sample and the range and complexity of different tastes just goes to show how much we get used to middle of the road multinational, mass-produced fare.  Tasting original and unique food and drink was certainly a highlight.

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One of the most distinctive shops visited was a ‘Broom Shop’.  I’ve never seen one.  Ever.  It’s run by 2 sisters who aim to make 25 brooms a day in their workshop which also serves as a retail outlet.  The skill and beauty of what they do and make is amazing and the kids found it fascinating to watch them hone their skills.  I couldn’t resist a purchase and despite ‘where’s your hat?’, ‘you forgot your cloak‘, ‘have you joined Harry Potter‘, ‘which one should we get for the mother-in-law?‘, comments being hurled in my direction – I admit it was fair game – it’s a lovely reminder of such a great city.

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A wonderful week away.  Next job on the list is planning our adventure and travels over the Summer … with or without broom ….

🙂