Wining and Dining in the Okanagan Valley

Ok… over to my again husband to recount our recent trip.

This trip to the spiritual home of BC wines was highly anticipated on many fronts. Firstly we relished the opportunity to learn more about the wines we were savouring in Vancouver, secondly we hoped to discover a few more fine examples of Okanagan golden goodness and lastly we longed for a good

Oliver Road 18

The vista from Road 18 vineyard in Oliver

old fashion road trip. I think Canadians and Aussies definitely share a common enthusiasm for long, meandering drives to wonderful destinations. Our countries are decorated with natural beauty but in both cases it can take a mighty long time to get there. You can lament this situation or just strap yourself into a trusty vehicle, turn up the stereo and enjoy the ride. Equally, what better way to see a new country than from the vantage of a road trip and what better time of the year to do it in, than Fall.

The Okanagan Wine Country is about 5-6 hours north east of Vancouver and the Zielinski’s opted for a timeless classic in the form of a Volkswagen Westfalia. This van rolled off the production line in 1986, so it was a vintage VW but had been lovingly maintained all those years so was still highly reliable (we hoped…)  It came with it’s own fridge, cooktop, double bed and a top speed, on the downhill, of 110km/h. Having this chariot chug us down the highway added a deft touch of romanticism to our trip.

Our steed, the Westfalia

The 26 year old Volkswagen Westfalia, sure wasn’t the fastest way to get somewhere but definitely the most fun

Naramata DSC_1174

This is the heart of some of the best vineyards to visit

The drive up was beautiful and even swept us pass Hope, BC the setting for the legendary Sylvester Stallone film “Rambo, First Blood”. We took a pre-planned pit stop at a roadside fruit and veg store to feed one of our touring party’s growing  addiction for pumpkin and gourds. These were critical components to the upcoming Halloween festival. We spied a slinking wolf on the way up and arrived in Naramata in the early evening.


Here we met the lovely and gregarious Renee who ran a delightfully unique B&B – Robinson Bed and Beach. Her links to the area were indisputable as her grandfather was one of the first to settle in the area and built the Heritage Inn. The B&B had a moose head proudly on display that apparently fed Renee’s relatives for two years during one particular lean period. It’s difficult to describe the B&B in words other than to say eclectic would be high on the list. It was perfectly placed on the shores of Lake Skaha, so the sunrises were breathtaking. The view was enhanced further by the jumping into the outdoor Jacuzzi with a coffee or wine depending on the time of day.

Now, back to the main purpose of our trip – wine tasting. Obviously everyone was looking forward to this, especially our hosts who were itching to introduce us to some fine wineries. The only tragedy we struck was my wife learning 3 days before we left that she was 5 weeks pregnant with our second child. Devastation at not wanting to drink wine due to the incessant nausea countered by joy of knowing we were growing a second child would describe her mental state. So I took it graciously upon myself to taste and drink for the two of us. Almost all of us thought this was very selfless of me.

All 3 days of our Okanagan visit involved a very similar routine. We set out mid morning after a quick Jacuzzi by the Lake, carefully keeping an eye out for the legendary Okopogo.

Lake DSC_1190

Never tire of this view of Lake Skaha from our B&B

We would then hit a few wineries before lunch and before our kids self destructed. Then we would visit a few more vineyards in the afternoon (mainly G and I) whilst the ladies would corral the kids back to the B&B for some entertainment. Perhaps the greatest challenge during the weekend was entertaining the 3 kids whilst we tasted.  My memory of all the wines we tasted and vineyards we visited is limited but my general impressions were that the region is truly breathtaking. It rivals and tops many of the wine areas I have been lucky to visit so far. I would rank it above the Hunter Valley, Clare Valley, Napa and it would be on par with the Dordogne, France. Whilst in terms of its wines this region is an infant in comparison since most vineyards are 20 years or less old.

The Okanagan

Quite simply … Okanagan Gold

There were definitely many standouts however, they are probably a little over priced and I was a little frustrated by the tasting fees which appeared almost mandatory at every place, even the small vineyards. I know this is standard practice in the States but it doesn’t sit very well with me as tasting the product is part of doing business. Anyhow this aspect didn’t detract greatly from our experience. We even visited a wonderful cheese farm, a vineyard, Elephant Island, that made wines from plums, raspberries, blackberries, apples and peaches. This probably harks from the time that the Okanagan was overrun with plenty of orchards. Some 15 years ago there was a shift from orchards to vineyards as everyone eyed the potential for more money from selling bottles of wines rather than boxes of apples. I am sure glad they did as the region is spectacular.

OK, so what wines stood out I hear you plead. Definite highlights included the Burrowing Owl in Oliver, Quail’s Gate in Kelowna and in Narramatta I loved La Frenz, Red Rooster, Wan Westen and Poplar Grove. The most epic and Napa like vineyard was undoubtedly Mission Hill in Kelowna. This is a monument to largeness. Epic! Mammoth! Gargantuan! All these descriptors aptly provide a snapshot to this place.

Mission Hill1DSC_1284

Understated? The entry into Mission Hill

It is framed with massive marble and stone arches, roman-like pillars and amphitheatres which funnily enough provided the kids with so much fun as they rolled down them a million times. This was where our trip concluded. We sadly filed back into the Westfalia and braced ourselves for the long car trip home. We three were happier for the amazing landscapes, food, wine and friends we enjoyed for Thanksgiving 2012.

Thanksgiving Colour

Happy Thanksgiving 2012

Good Places To Eat

1. The Bench Market – known for their delectable Eggs Bennie

2. The Patio @ Lake Breeze Winery – relaxed atmosphere couple with a great food and a spectacular view

3. Burrowing Owl – For a beautiful dining experience where the matching wines are as great as the dishes


Deep Cove – Savoring the sun and perhaps a swim with the seals?

I think I’m in denial that Summer has ended. Coming from Australia, you hardly notice the gradual merging of the seasons between Spring to Summer, Summer to Autumn/Fall as there are regular sunny days tempered by cool breezes and most of the time small amounts of rain either side.  I am clinging to the occasional sunny afternoon here in Vancouver and trying not to think about the reality that fall has arrived…almost overnight. The colour of the leaves are changing, and dropping one by one to the ground, I am snuggling under the duvet more and I also found myself walking out of a store with a new sweater last week. Experiencing the seasons in full swing is a beautiful thing of course, and I will try my hardest to embrace it all but if I had to choose, warmer weather will always my preference.

So with the unpredictable weather on the weekend, it was a risk to head to Deep Cove in North Vancouver for a kayak. However, my husband must have had good vibes or something because the minute we parked the car, the sun came out and it appeared to be lighter and warmer than when we had left home.

Deep Cove is a small bay town in the easternmost part of North Vancouver, BC, Canada. It is located at the foot of Mt Seymour and fronts onto the Indian Arm, a branch of the Burrard Inlet. It is also approximately 13 kilometres from downtown Vancouver.

It is a popular area for water sports; kayaks, canoes, paddle boarding, boating, fishing as well as other outdoor activities including hiking and biking.

At Deep Cove Canoe and Kayak a double kayak will cost you about $38 for two hours. You are provided with life jackets, pump, rope and given a good introduction to the area and where to paddle.

It’s a peaceful and pretty perspective that low on the glassy water, and while gliding around we saw our friends racing each other…

we saw many summer cabins that were of a particular size (including jacuzzis, hammocks and flags with lookout spots) around the Cove (locals refer to Deep Cove as the Cove) which weren’t catching a lot of sun at that particular time…and some that weren’t so steady looking.

It was a little cold in the water, but was tempting to swim with the seal swimming right by us

many boats and yachts,

A lighthouse on a point,

and two well fed seagulls.

A relaxed afternoon and a great way to soak up the few sunny days that are about.

Two places I recommend to eat/drink in the Deep Cove area are:

Honey Doughnuts located at 4373 Gallant Ave, North Vancouver, for a sweet snack and coffee or lunch.

Deep Cove Osaka Sushi located at 4355 Gallant Ave, North Vancouver, for excellent sushi and sashimi.

For strolling, I had to mention this cute gift store called Room 6 located at 4389 Gallant Ave, North Vancouver too!

Three outings with or without kids in Vancouver…

Although the water parks are closed and the air is gradually becoming a little more fresh and breezy, the sun is smiling still and beckons for us to make the most of it. There are still many places to go with children to keep them entertained outdoors…

Where we have been lately?

1. Steveston – A quaint fishing village about 20 minutes south of Vancouver. It was once the largest fishing port and cannery centre on the West Coast. It is still home to the largest salmon run in North America and to the largest fleet of commercial fishing vessels on the BC coast. (

Quaint fishing village of Steveston, Vancouver, BC

For kid’s it’s great to watch the boats…

Fishing boats docked in Steveston, Vancouver, BC

or fly kites…

Kite Flying at Steveston, Vancouver, BC

and eat fish and chips (we ate at Pajo’s, there was a queue but it was worth it)…

Pajo’s Fish & Chips line up – Steveston, Vancouver, BC

Walk it off along the water, and finish with an ice-cream from Timothy’s Frozen Yoghurt.

Timothy’s ice-cream in Steveston, Vancouver, BC

2. The PNE – Pacific National Exhibition which runs for 17-days in late August, early September and is a Summer fair, seasonal amusement park, and arena in Vancouver.

It is located in Hastings Park; entrance / Gate 1 at Hastings and Renfrew Street and is a terrific way to wear out your children.

PNE Fair, Vancouver, BC – Entrance, Gate 1

We enjoyed seeing the Peking Acrobats performance…

Peking Acrobats – PNE, Vancouver, 2012

Especially the dog show!

PNE dog show, 2012

There were animals and a farmyard to see how our food is grown and picked…

Picking carrots in the farmyard – PNE, Vancouver, 2012

and of course rides, rides and more rides! (there are quite a few for younger kids to wear them out).

Rides at the PNE, Vancouver, 2012

3. Burnaby Central Railway – What child does not like trains? There cannot be many I am sure about that as all I could see on arrival was children squealing and laughing as they boarded the mini trains here. This railway is located at Confederation Park, 120 North Willingdon Avenue, Burnaby, BC.

This place is cash only, be prepared! The fare is $2.50 per single ride ticket and kids will most likely want to ride a few times at least…we must have had a ride on all the different coloured trains which means approximately 5 rides!

Ride on the trains! At Burnaby Central Railway, Vancouver, BC

There are quite a few tracks…

Riding the rails – Burnaby Railway Station, Vancouver, BC

some tracks were surrounded by blackberry bushes, plump, juicy ones ready to pick but just out of reach!

Our train driver – Burnaby Railway Station

So it was just as well we had a picnic (you can bring your own) waiting to enjoy in the grounds of croissants, salad, fruits and cheese. After all that, it was time to go home.

Destination: Guelph and Grand Bend, Ontario

I am not sure where to start. This has been the longest period between writing about our adventures and I have wanted to log in for over a week now to record it.

So I will go back to the beginning of our vacation which took off in early August flying to Toronto, Ontario. Immediately we arranged our hire car pick up and drove to Guelph, a university city in Southwestern Ontario, Canada.  It was just under an hour’s drive from Toronto Pearson International Airport. Although it was a brief stay overnight to break up our journey to Grand Bend which is approximately three hours away, we found it to be a charming town. There are many heritage buildings and distinctive limestone architecture is evident all over particularly in the downtown area of the city.

Guelph is steeped in history. With a nickname of ‘The Royal City’, according to Wikipedia; [the name Guelph comes from the Italian Guelfo and the Bavarian-Germanic Welf. It is a reference to King George IV, monarch at the time of its founding (who family was a family from the House of Hanover, a younger branch of the House of Welf) and a tongue in cheek reference to the then ascendant population in neighbouring Berlin (Kitchener). (Guelphs being the name given the northern Italian factions who opposed the reign of the Holy Roman Empire].

Guelph is the home to one of Canada’s largest breweries; Sleeman Breweries Ltd. Its headquarters were founded here in 1834. This fact is particularly important as my husband is working his way around the country trying and buying the best of what’s on offer in that department.

We booked into a bed & breakfast called the Norfolk Guest House located at 102 Eramosa Road, Guelph. It is a little pricey at the upmarket end of where B&B’s sit, however we wanted to assure maximum rest and comfort after a long flight and drive. With a glorious plush bed, double Jacuzzi tub and elegant furnishings in a large grand room we were aptly satisfied. On arrival we were greeted to a generous charcuterie and cheese plate with a bottle of red (which was pre-ordered) and we were happy. As a final unwind before hopping into bed, we enjoyed a luxury bath overflowing with bubbles, jets and soft hues of colour from lights under water. Our son found this thoroughly entertaining!

Breakfast was served in an ornate room with high ceilings and decorative fixtures. We were happy with our orders of eggs, french toast and fruit which was lovely. The only disappointment for us was the lack of warmth and hospitality from the host. My preference for bed & breakfast establishments over large chain hotels is always first and foremost for the personal service you expect. The extra touch of a friendly more intimate stay where you are introduced on a first name basis, learn more about where you are staying and the history of the location ensures a pleasant experience overall. Sadly, this was not the case but oddly enough I couldn’t flaw anything else.

Before leaving the town, we visited the Guelph Farmers’ Market located at 2 Gordon Street (corner of Gordon Street and Waterloo Avenue).  The markets are on Saturdays 7:00am to 12:00 noon (Year Round) and Wednesdays 3:00pm to 7:00pm (June 20th to October 31st only).

At 9am it was a hive of activity with locals out in full force and with over fifty vendors, these markets were plentiful; no fear in produce being scarce two hours after opening! Summer fruits were a delight, especially the peaches, watermelon and blueberries. There was a huge variety of vegetables, dairy, meat and specialty foods – we were in heaven.

By 11am it was an extremely hot 31 degrees celsius, so unfortunately we could not indulge in perishables for our long trip and there it was, we departed salivating like Pavlov’s dog.

Guelph appears to have a full calendar of events taking place and we arrived on 4 August which surprisingly was Guelph’s Annual John Galt Day (in celebration of the founder of Guelph). This was held at the City Hall & John Galt Park. While we were enjoying the sounds of the music and entertainment kicking off, we wandered over to the Cornerstone Restaurant/Cafe at 1 Wyndham Street North, Guelph.

Although we stopped in for coffee only, it has a laid back pub-like feel and serves vegetarian food. Breakfast sounded good with options like cornmeal waffles with blueberry compote and I’ve heard the African Bean Stew and the Corner Club sandwich are a reasonably good pick for lunch too. Our coffee was just how I like it, hot and not too strong.  It did the job and picked me up for a good part of the journey to Grand Bend.

We were meeting friends and their family at Grand Bend and staying with them in a cottage. Grand Bend is located on Lake Huron, one of the five Great Lakes in North America. Lake Huron has a surface area of 23,000 square miles making it the third largest fresh-water lake on Earth.

A Torontonian friend who now resides in Vancouver told us before we left that it was a ‘party town’. I laughed as I thought it couldn’t possibly be when I knew we were visiting friends with their children and families staying in a quaint holiday cottage to have some peaceful beach time. On arrival it did appear that way; quiet, relaxed and beach around the corner which was by no means packed on any occasions we were there. However, I understood what he meant when we took a drive on our way out one afternoon on Main Street and witnessed for myself that this lazy beach town which is populated with a few thousand inhabitants most of the year round, actually increases to approximately 100,000 in the summertime. Whoa was it busy!

We enjoyed a dinner out at the Growlin Gator Bar & Grill – 86 Main Street, Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada. With a pumping vibe so close to the main beach, we were lucky to get a good table in the courtyard. With an extensive cocktail and martini list and kid’s menu, which I thought was a good combination – everybody was happy.

Service was friendly, food came quickly and although taste wise it was average, kid’s were happy and that is the most important aspect of going out with multiple families!

The beach was the closest reminder of home with soft white/yellow fine sand, and had familiar bushy green foliage surrounding it and similar outlook to the bay where I would  spend my summer holidays growing up on the south coast of NSW. The water was even warmer than any water we’d experienced in Vancouver.

I had to keep reminding myself that it was a lake not an ocean so each time I would enter, it was a little odd to taste fresh, clear water as opposed to saltwater which I expected.

As a final stop, we visited the Grand Bend Pinery Antique Flea market – 10163 Lakeshore Road, Grand Bend. It is open May through November and was full to the brim with stalls of food, poutine, bric-a-brac, new homewares, toys, antiques and more. Entertainment was very impressive too in the beer garden area. You need to allow at least a couple of hours as these markets are huge.

We had a restful beach holiday with relaxed fun company as you would expect. To finish I think the pictures speak for themselves and although it’s clearly not a hidden secret, I recommend this place to anyone visiting the glorious Lake Huron and seeking out a beach holiday in the Ontario province.


What’s on right now? I’m on holidays spending time in a cottage in Lake Bend, Ontario, friends in Toronto and a cabin in the mountains of BC.

Where I’m sitting…in the quiet of the forest in a cabin by a lake.

What I’m eating…french toast with natural smoked bacon, berries and maple syrup.

What I’m thinking…

I am thankful for the good things in my life right now and love my family very much.

I am sending courage and strength to one particular person today.

Canadians are generally very warm, gracious and friendly people.

I am appreciative of any comments and thoughts people have offered on my posts.

I wish I had more time to do more of things I love.

That sunsets can be spectacular all over the world.

What’s inspires me right now…the simple life in the mountains, the tranquility, beauty and peace.

What I’m reading at the moment…The 100-mile diet, a year of local eating by Alisa Smith & J.B. MacKinnon.

What I enjoyed yesterday…inviting close friends up to the cabin and cooking a local feast of wild salmon, organic chicken, quinoa salad, zucchini and lemon soup and baked potatoes for us all.

Pender Island – a magical weekend getaway.

I always love escaping the city’s hustle and bustle so I thought that we’d have fun with good company, good food & wine and perhaps a little quiet. We were invited to join our friends at their cabin on North Pender Island. This cabin has been in the family since our friend was six years of age. What I didn’t know is that we were en route to somewhere magical.

The first magic? Orcas / killer whales diving around us just as the sun was setting on the BC Ferry ride. The BC Ferry ride from Tsawwassen (in Vancouver) is approximately a 2 hour trip to the Island ferry terminal called Otter Bay. You are required to be at the Vancouver terminal 40 minutes prior. It is way more relaxing to take your car onto the ferry and relax rather than drive for hours and arrive exhausted. This method of transport for a weekend away does not exist in Sydney, Australia. We booked an evening journey hoping that it would coincide with kid’s being asleep for all or most of it.

Pender Island is one of the smallest islands in the group of Southern Gulf Islands with a population of 2,200. It is also known as the Hawaii of Canada with a sub-mediteranean climate. The Gulf Islands are in the Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia, Canada.

Firstly, my idea of a cabin was perhaps a basic square-shaped cedar log house, you know like those cute ones you’ve seen in a movie; one room, a fireplace with perhaps a small kitchen and bathroom to get you by in the middle of the forest. I was actually looking forward to an adventure of roughing it like a castaway on an Island. Boy, was I wrong!  We were surprised on our arrival to be greeted by this luxurious cabin with stylish finishes mixed with the warmth and character of wooden beams. I did discover though, that originally there was a cabin not too dissimilar to my vision which had been moved by crane to make way for this newly evolved modern form. Perfectly comfortable, our friend’s father even demands to stay in there whenever he visits! A welcome celebratory wine or two was opened, photos of the cabin’s history were viewed with childhood memories shared and without realising it was 1am and we headed off to bed as the kids would be up at dawn.

Magic in the morning…on waking, we were in the presence of the most nonchalant baby deer grazing on the clover and flowers right outside the window. What really struck a chord with me was the peaceful surrounds of the forest. We were sitting in this beautiful light filled home, with serenity that I yearn for and hardly remember savouring for a long time (okay, excluding noise from children). We forget that our concept of silence usually includes white noise in the background; the hum of traffic, the sound of appliances, machinery, something buzzing constantly. I think here, you just enjoy one’s solitude.

After a breakfast of home made granola and muffins (see previous recipe posted), berries and coffee we headed off to the Pender Island Farmers’ Market.

These are open every Saturday and what impressed me was the serious and committed following for George and Kelly’s produce. This was the only stall with a queue; everyone wanting the pick of the crop! We loved the tayberries, as well as many other items, but they were something I had never tried before.

There are a few artisan bread stands which sell beautiful hand-made sourdoughs, rye and grainy loaves which I adore. Fresh fettucine seemed to be hiding under the table of the ‘felts lady’ – it took me a while to find it as she has her hand in arts, crafts and pasta some would think an odd combination, however it was delicious and so fresh.

If I hadn’t eaten breakfast, I probably would have been tempted by the polish lady selling a selection of homemade european cakes and she was happy to do taste tests!

My husband and son stationed themselves at the preserves lady’s stand staring out the bacon jam! What a concept my husband exclaimed excitedly.

As well as the passionate producers, there were a number of designers of arts, crafts and jewellery. One of the better known artists on the Island is Frank Ducote who thoughtfully gave my son a card signed with one of his works designed in honour of the late writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak of Where the Wild Things are which is one of his favourite bedtime books.

There is an Art Festival running on Pender Island presently with Frank Ducote and many others featuring heavily. More on Frank Ducote can be viewed on 

Back at the cabin, fresh pasta for lunch and everyone was happy. Then onto the next activity…more magic or treasure? Our friends took us to this private beach they called ‘Chinaman’s beach’ (I cannot reveal the location – it’s secret!) and we learnt there was real treasure to be found on it. Over a period of time, pieces of fine blue china have been washing up on the shores and although they are only the size of a fingernail there is quite a collection they have found. Each piece of the puzzle revealing a different design; another clue to perhaps unlocking the mystery of a shipwreck perhaps? Our friends almost had me believe it may be from the Titanic, but I am not so sure it made all the way from Newfoundland, Canada to the shores of Gulf Islands.

The children enjoyed looking for crabs more than the treasure so we were all happy.

Back to the cabin, and where would we be without a barbecue? Contentment is sometimes so easy to attain; on this occasion it was a juicy hamburger, fresh cut chips from hand picked potatoes, some bubbles and smiling kids. Now that’s magic!

An evening of poker, wine and a dessert of ‘chocolate dirt’ and ice-cream (secret recipe from a friend of our friend and it’s incredibly good) was really a divine way to end the day.

Next morning, a hike to Fern Tree Gully which is a heavenly bed of ferns in a rainforest environment. The air was so fresh you could taste it, and the smell of cedar was invigorating. This I tell you was better than any hangover cure and that’s magic too!

On our travels we saw the monstrous Cedar and Douglas Fir trees, giant-sized slugs (I had to mention as I had never seen anything like them and they were in camouflaged colours too!), and heard some sheep in the distance from a farm nearby.

Lunch time was a sumptuous selection of produce from the Farmers’ Market and our friends vegetable garden at the cabin. We all ate very well, with flavour and abundance from all the fresh food. Then off to the next adventure.

We drove to Hope Bay, which is on the southern part of the Island. A quaint area with an art gallery, a gift shop, a cafe/restaurant and few other small stores with the backdrop of the water. The children caught some jellyfish in their nets, we snacked on some fries from ‘The Cafe at Hope Bay‘ – 4301 Bedwell Harbour Road, British Columbia. It has a good selection of dishes on the menu and changes between lunch and dinner. It would certainly make for a romantic setting on an evening out.

We also visited another beach which has been washing up a few recently discovered pieces of blue china too. I saw my first Arbutus tree, bright flaming orange their trunks were and they had an Aussie blue gum type of feel about them too. Another magical spot where we searched for more treasure, spotted crabs and generally soaked up the tranquil beauty and views in this secluded spot.

Can you spot the seal? We saw a little something moving in the distance…

Like sands through the hourglass, our restful time is coming to an end, or should I say a close for now because I do hope we return. This Island is magnificent in so many ways as it offered us the creature comforts we enjoy while away; good food, good wine, good beds and good views and the peace and quiet that you could only imagine was 100 years ago  in a far away land from what we know today.

We have all had a truly fun and magical weekend. When the weather forecast for Vancouver this weekend was doom and gloom, we were blessed with sunny, breezy days.

Our friends were the perfect hosts, company and entertainment for our little one with many games and activities planned. It will be recorded as one of our most memorable and delightful experiences that we have had here in British Columbia. For more on Pender Island with accommodation available please see this website Chamber of Commerce.

Pender Island has it all…the sub-mediterranean climate, the coves, beaches, rainforest, small mountains, lakes and open farmland.  I highly recommend this Island (ssh, don’t tell too many people) as a getaway for all people; families, couples, singles that are seeking a weekend getaway or longer that offers so much more including a little bit of magic.

For now so long Pender, I am so thankful we were introduced to you and we hope to return again.

An achievement – I climbed the Grouse Grind!

If you saw my earlier posts on the Grouse Grind, my first experience to the top was via the luxury of the Skyride and I mentioned this was a ‘must do’ as there is so much entertainment up top of the mountain.

Then my husband (in my opinion of peak fitness), enjoyed his first experience grinding his way up. At the time, I wouldn’t have considered it reading the Trail Facts from the grouse mountain website…

Length: 2.9 kilometres (1.8 miles)

Elevation Gain: 853 metres (2,800 feet)

Total Stairs: 2,830
I read the word ‘challenging’ and thought, that will be great for my ambitious husband but how did I miss the rest of this sentence on the website?

“The trail is very challenging. Keep in mind that there is a wide range of mountaintop trails that might better suit the average hiker.”

I assumed I would fall in-between the ‘novice and average hiker’ range so if I was going to do it, the pace would be my own and not competitive at all.

The advice on the site??

“On average it takes and hour and half and novice hikers two hours is recommended.”

Ok, so a good friend who has completed the grind many times previously invited me to come along and well with my husband’s motivating force persuaded me to say yes. It was a “yes” rather than “YES”. There was trepidation as he has a habit of making things sound easier than they actually are.

The record by a woman is completing it in 31:04 minutes and the official record at 23:48 minutes by a man. Not that I was paying attention to any of these statistics prior to embarking on the trail, in fact I was purposely trying not to focus on anything but putting one foot in front of the other in order to reach the final step.

The start of the trail is clearly marked as demonstrated in this picture…

so there is little chance you can start in the wrong direction. I put my timer on and we set off, quietly confident that it would be better than anticipated.

I was into the trail by about 10 minutes and I could feel my elevated heart rate and breathing becoming fiercer. The girls were feeding me words of encouragement to reach the first 1/4 Mark. This point they assured me takes the longest and I was alert and ready looking out for it. It could not come quick enough I can tell you.

There was a busy and eclectic crowd should I say on the trail last night, perhaps the gorgeous weather we’ve been having in a straight set brought them all out this week, and who knows what their motivation was for reaching the top?  My driving force was a cold, crisp glass of white wine or two while soaking up the beautiful expansive views around me.

For others, I am sure some of these motivations were filtering through the various groups…

Generation Z’s – The youngest lots were stopping, not for water but to get their iPad out (What the?) and change the music on their iPods which might have well have been on a loudspeaker for everyone to hear the volume was so high.

Generation Y’s – The ego motivates with ‘I am sure this will be a piece of cake and I can socialize and possibly even pick up once up top’, but sadly the comments I heard from a few girls before they even reached the 1/4 mark was “I can’t go any further, I can’t do it”, with a slightly less impressed look from some of the other girlfriends.

Generation X’s – like moi, we were mostly quiet and happy to step aside should any freaks want to sprint past us, I was quietly internalizing most of the pain so as not to show us up, reveal our age or any negative thoughts crossing my mind every couple of minutes particularly when I was just past the half way mark.

Baby boomers – I’ll show these young upstarts a thing or two about endurance, I even heard some 75-year-old telling some younger sprinting males they were “not allowed to go downwards”…tutt tutt.

At the half way mark, I saw my first chipmunk. Really cute I might add, but I think he might have been taunting me for a bit because he kept circling me back and forth, almost to say ‘You can turn back now, it’s not too late’. I was starting to have doubts about whether I was going to make it, however all the words of encouragement from my friends topped up my dwindling motivation.
I looked up after a bit and there it was….the light! That could only mean one thing and my friends confirmed it, we were close, give or take a few hundred steep stairs.
At that stage I was practically lifting one leg in front of the other and might have sounded like a ‘Sasquatch’ grunting and huffing heavily but I knew that I could only do one thing and that was keep moving as I was close.
The last marker of achievement, the final frontier was reaching the yellow rope. I was whimpering at the painful thought of knowing I was so close yet not close enough. This was tormenting me as I was literally minutes away and felt I could have collapsed in a heap, but I just had to find whatever energy reserves were remaining to clutch it.
Yippee! I made it! I checked in with my timer and I achieved it in 1hr 19mins and then it hit me. I was enveloped by sweeping views of Vancouver’s city and sea which were more dramatic than what I recalled from going up by gondola recently. The sun was fading and it felt magical. It was surreal looking out at the majestic Douglas Fir, Hemlock and cedar trees which were dense, darkish and towering over me on the trail and now beautiful pyramid-shaped silhouettes sitting at the same level as the clouds and I. Now onto a treat at Altitudes Bistro.
After this vigorous endeavour, my wine couldn’t arrive quick enough. My body’s elevated  temperature had however reduced my appetite which took a while to kick in. I chose the CedarCreek Pinot Gris from the Okanagan Valley, British Colombia. It was incredibly refreshing with hints of peach and melon. I decided on a charcuterie plate to complement which included a terrine with some cured meats, walnut bread and cheese. With this delicious selection in front of me, for a moment I was transported to Alsace, France (one my favourite countries) it was so delightful.
My final thoughts? Overall I would recommend you do the Grind at least once in your lifetime, it is well worth it when you reach the top. Although the thought of repeating this over and over to beat my time does not inspire and will hardly qualify me for a Grouse Grind enthusiast or obsessive, it is a killer workout which you will be proud of regardless of how long it takes. The overriding feeling of achievement and rush of endorphins you are rewarded with washes away any pain you may feel (as I did) along the way.
Please, I would love to hear any stories or thoughts from fellow grinders out there now that I have accomplished this!

Summer water parks in Vancouver

Finally, bless the sun is out! It’s glorious and it is weather that just makes you want to scream with excitement up to the heavens…after an intense and long cold spring.

My son’s expression is priceless when I ask him which water park would he like to go to today? He is literally a kid in a candy store and he is giving it much thought. I ask “Would you like to go to the water park at Granville Island or Stanley Park?” He replies, “Ummm Stanley Park, no Granville Island!”.

Silently, that was my pick although we’ve been to Stanley Park recently too. Both have quite a bit going for them in terms of surrounding entertainment, so either way you are likely to have a happy and worn out child by the end of it.

Ok, so I’ll start with the Stanley Park option. Stanley Park is close to Downtown, surrounded by beautiful and breathtaking scenery of the ocean, mountains and Lion’s Gate Bridge and more. The park itself is a lush green forest approximately 1000 acres and if it wasn’t such a popular tourist destination you could easily get lost in the half a million trees that are hundreds of years old. Cedar, Hemlock and Douglas Fir trees surround you everywhere you walk. The water park is open from June 1 to September 1 from 10am-6pm.

If I take my son to the Stanley Park spray area, I will pair it with the Aquarium which is only a few minutes away on the north side of the park. With Summer camps in full force by July, you are best to arrive here via public transport and earlier in the day if possible. It is a free attraction which makes it even more alluring. It has a wider area of the soft spongy tarmac covering in some of the play areas making it slightly safer for the younger children.

Between the spray park and the Aquarium, there are many shady spots on the grass to enjoy a picnic lunch. I recommend you bring your own packed goodies. Whatever you do, DO NOT order any of the ‘hot food’ from the Lumberman’s Arch cafe – in my one and only experience, choosing what I thought to be the healthiest options on the menu; how many ways can you go wrong with a salmon burger and fish & chips?? It was overcooked, dripping with oil, tasteless and typically overpriced given the location.  It was a very disappointing experience and it is just about the only place to eat conveniently close by. The food at the Aquarium is better, more palatable and appears to be better quality in some areas of the ‘hot menu’.

So, do you know where I am heading with this? Further to mentioning earlier that Granville Island water park was personally my choice for the day, the options of gourmet food are endless!

Granville Island is the largest free attraction in North America. It is situated right next to the kid’s play area as well incase your child literally gets cold feet (the water is a little chilly still). It is open May 21 through till September 5 from 10am-6pm. All the delectable foods on Granville Island are all close by, minutes walk away. Sushi and gelato always work a treat for my son and I, particularly Gi Gelato & Coffee House did it for me at 1535 Johnson Street, Suite #105 Granville Island. Freshly made creamy flavours including sorbet which I love are fantastic and not expensive.

Say no more, a good day out, a free day out (just about) and we are both happy.

Stanley Park Spray Park – Vancouver Park Board

O Canada! Long weekend celebration for Canada Day – 1st July 2012.

Our celebration of Canada Day was not our first my husband had to remind me, but it was the most memorable!

Back in 2008 when my husband and I fell in love with Vancouver while travelling, we were actually in Whistler when the celebrations took place. I was so in awe of the beauty of the place and it was the first time I had seen the mountains that I can’t recall the celebration of Canada that well. Also, what was noticeable was the large number of Australian and kiwi expats creating a racket at any opportunity to have a party up there. There are many performances and a parade that takes place here too.

Canada Day is a federal statutory holiday on July 1st to celebrate the 1867 Federation when three colonies became a single country within the British Empire.

We were fortunate to be invited to some friends we have made while here (through friends from home) to their neighbourhood Canada Day parade in the Pemberton Heights area of North Vancouver in West 22nd Street.

As we approached the street, there were people blowing up countless red balloons at the Capilano United Church where the “Running of the Bikes” begin. When we arrived at our friends’ home, we were welcomed with a drink and then into some bike decorating. One of the highlights of the day is the kid’s bike decorating competition and some children start adorning their bikes a week or more out from the date! I probably observed, more than I actually decorated ‘with drink in hand’ but it was fun seeing the kid’s bikes and scooters lit up in red streamers, flags and ribbons.

Once we ready to scoot out the door, we made our way to the church where there was a sea of red and white flooding the road. We could hear the echoing laughter and screams of excitement from the children while they were waiting on their colourful bikes for the North Vancouver Fire Truck to arrive. When the engine pulled up, the glee in their faces was evident and the firemen signalled everyone to start and away we all went…chasing the fire truck down the road at a blistering amble until we reached Sowden Park.

There were two bouncy castles set up and the Fire Truck were providing endless entertainment for all. There were running races ready to commence for the older kids as well. By then it was time to turn around, feed our little ones and give them a nap to re-energize for the fun party that was about to erupt in the afternoon.

Our friends threw a fantastic party and it was the perfect place to learn more about Canada and Canadianisms…for example,

eh‘ has more than one meaning. Canadians often end their sentences with “eh” and it is generally considered a polite way of inviting the other listener/s to participate in the conversation as opposed to the speaker simply stating fact after fact.

Schwack‘ is a new word I hadn’t heard and it was used a couple of times by different people and still not exactly sure what it means except that by Urban Dictionary’s definition could be a number of things to the effect of “cool, ‘extreme pleasure’ or to take a 3 to 10 second chug of hard liquor straight from the bottle in order to get significantly drunk extremely quickly”.

A Blue Jay‘ is a native North American bird which I sighted for the first time in our friends backyard – beautiful by the way and that they are also the name of the Toronto baseball team.

Garbage bears‘ live near humans, scavenge for food in bins and don’t hibernate like other bears.

Poutine‘ really is a French Canadian dish of fries topped with gravy and cheese curds.

a S’more‘ is supposedly uniquely Canadian and is a traditional nighttime campfire treat which is a sandwich of Graham crackers, a roasted marshmallow and a layer of chocolate.

Cariboo genuine draft‘ from BC tastes quite refreshing although it is 5.5% alcohol which seems relatively high compared with most Canadian brews.

BC wines‘ can be very good, or at least the ones I enjoyed on Canada Day!

Pop‘ has a different taste in Canada (as its made from sugar), more like our fizzy drinks in Australia to ‘pop’ in the US which is made with corn syrup.

Canadian flag‘ has a stylish looking 11 pointed red maple leaf which bears no actual significance.

The last fact was interesting to me, because unknowingly I tried to replicate the Maple Leaf  with strawberries on the maple cake I made for the day and it had only 10 visible points so had I have included one more it may have improved the stylised look of my baking efforts. For those recipe hunters, I am happy to post up the Maple Cake ingredients and method too, just let me know!

All in all, it was a day that we will treasure to have spent with a lovely group of Canadians and thank our friends for inviting us to be involved in the true Canadian spirit.

Canada Day!

More from the street parade…

Grouse Mountain adventures – a must do!

On a regular Monday morning, a good ‘local’ friend invited my son and I to join them for a day out at Grouse Mountain. Of course I like to think I’m adventurous and said “I’m in”, without really knowing what I was in for. There were however, only two occasions before this that I had been up a mountain and seen snow!  I hear that most of the snow is disappearing at this time of year, although the coldest June on record here aka ‘Junuary’ has been reported recently so I wasn’t sure what the mountain would look like. However off we embarked on a day with the children for an action packed day on the plateau.

The drive is only a half hour in traffic from Vancouver (15 minutes from Downtown) to Grouse Mountain located at: 6400 Nancy Green Way, Vancouver, BC. You can venture up there any day of the year as it is open from 9:00am to 10:00pm through the year.

When we arrived, I picked up our tickets although a membership is worthwhile too if you plan to go at least half a dozen times throughout the year. It was straightforward and what I really like is that all tickets include the round-trip sky ride (Gondola), the Lumberjack Show, Ranger Talks at the Grizzly Bear Habitat, and other summer activities (May-October), mountaintop ice-skating, sleigh rides and Peak of Christmas in the winter, year-round movies in the Theatre in the Sky and more.

On arrival, we took the sky ride up while looking for white wolves in the forest which are running around freely. At the Grizzly Bear Habitat, a sleuth of people were still watching  two of the biggest grizzly bears I’ve ever seen…well they were the only grizzly bears I have ever seen in the flesh! Apparently they were much lighter than usual after coming out of months of hibernation, but still they were enough to startle me never the less. My son wanted to keep watching them but realised if he tried to get any closer, they might ‘eat me’  he said.

Then off to the Birds in Motion show which was also very thrilling with the newest addition; a Great-Horned Owl only 10 weeks old flying right above my head almost taking my hair with it! I remained completely still as instructed! I am glad it wasn’t the Peregrine Falcon; the world’s fastest animal here too, or it might have been successful with its speed at leaving me hairless. It was beautiful watching them in free flight and educational too.

Final stop was the Lumberjack show with some well-seasoned fries (they were good and it was either those or Beaver tail which is a classic Canadian sweet treat!), which was very entertaining and funny. I particularly liked the log-rolling, the 60-foot tree climb and the exciting springboard chop which is the only three board event in North America. In Australia it is known as the three board jigger and is one of the most demanding events in lumberjack sports.

This is a must-do experience as there is so much to see for everyone. Perhaps next time I will stair master my way up to the top, and if that’s the case I will treat myself to a dinner at the ‘Observatory restaurant’.

I was pleased to learn that Grouse Mountain is dedicated to sustainable dining and is also a member of the Ocean Wise conservation program. All of the restaurants at Grouse Mountain are also certified by the Green Table Network, which puts sustainability on the menu; choices include Halibut, Sockeye Salmon, local produce like Dungeness crab, organic greens, Okanagan cherries and more.

I will be back!

Please note, photos are not my own.