Saturday, 30 November 2013

Gingerbread man

That witch in Hansel and Gretel knew a thing or two about getting guests to come to visit her.  The Hyatt Regency Hotel in Vancouver took note and set up their own gingerbread house festival, where local school children pit their gingerbread skills against each other.  The losers get eaten.

Unfortunately they're all losers because the executive chef at the Hyatt gets to make an 11-foot tall gingerbread building, complete with gingerbread clock and a gingerbread cobblestone street.  The other unfortunate thing is that you don't actually get to eat any gingerbread - signs everywhere warn you against touching.  Given the number of figures with missing heads I'm not sure everyone takes notice, although eating gingerbread that has been breathed/coughed/sneezed over by the alleged 20,000 people who come to see this...I'd rather take my chances with a witch.

Wow!  Some of these constructions are pretty amazing.

Some less so.  Whoever made this is being eaten.

These aren't even gingerbread!

How are you feeling about the snowsuit these days Pete?  Ok...

High-class piping on this effort.

As Hannah noted: when it comes to gingerbread creations, less is not more.

Executive Chef Thomas Heinrich's gigantic gingerbread building. Unfair.

Are you happier now Pete?  No.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

...which we have not got.  Well, we do, but in Canada it's in October, so we missed it while still in the US.  Hopefully the same doesn't happen with other major holidays.  They have Christmas here, right?

I think he's trying to tell us something.  What is it Pete?  Where do you want to go...?

Monday, 25 November 2013

Meanwhile, in Smithers

Lest we forget, we're up here because Hannah has a job to do.  This week that job included jumping onto a plane and flying to Smithers where, in nearby Moricetown, she helped to run a jobs fair.  The Moricetown mill recently shut leaving the small community with 75% unemployment and Chevron went up to see what job opportunities they could offer on their new gas pipeline.  Like I keep telling you - they're the good guys.

This is where Smithers is:

Google wouldn't let me zoom out any further.  It's beautiful but remote, and the snow that rarely touches Vancouver has already set in for the season.  Hannah is apparently going to get a two-day course on snow driving, which I'm dead jealous about but will mean that I can absolve myself of responsibility when we drive north.

Anyway, while Pete and I struggled on alone she had a wonderful time, including a massive roast beef dinner put on by the Wet'suwet'en Nation in whose territory Moricetown and Smithers are founded.  She's now talking about taking a holiday up there!  Let's get that snow driving under our belt first, shall we...

Smithers, picturesque land of the truck.

Where you get breakfast.  Tim Hortons, a Canadian cafe chain, is without doubt the worst coffee I have ever tasted.  Apart from that vegan hazelnut milk cappuccino I once drank at Cafe Gratitude.

On the road to Moricetown.

Setting up the Chevron booth.

Winter is looking good!

Driving back to Smithers airport (they have their own promotional video).

Smithers Christmas lights.  Let's hope for some Christmas snow in Vancouver, but at a time and for a duration convenient to me.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

I know why the caged baby screams

It's been a slow-blogging week, mainly because someone in the house finally achieved full mobility and, like every other baby in the history of the world, proceeded to use his new skills to create mayhem.  Pete is now a danger to himself and everyone around him, and more worryingly to all my stuff.  Steps had to be taken.

The first was to get him out of the house and tire him out.  Canada, being a far more progressive (socialist) state than it's southern neighbour, puts a lot of money into community centres.  No dusty old halls these, they contain ice rinks, libraries, dance studios, etc.  Our local one runs a children's music class every Wednesday and so I took our little mischief maker along.

"Jump Into Music" is run by a lovely lady called Ori and includes lots of dancing around and jumping, punctuated by rattling, bashing and bubbles.  Basically an energetic baby's dream.  The current theme is French music and the website reminds you that parent participation is required.

"Don't you have two Masters degrees?" a small part of my brain was asking as I pranced around waving a rainbow parachute to the strains of Edith Piaf.  As usual I was the only man, although there was a strange dynamic of nannies who were then supplanted by parents arriving from work half-way through.  I ignored all this, of course, as we learnt the body parts to Alouette, and a song about a bug tickling you as it crawled.  We'll be back next week - je ne regrette rien!

The second tactic was containment.  Owing to the open-plan nature of our flat there's nowhere to really put a safety gate so we had to opt for a euphemistically-named "play yard" by the equally euphemistic manufacturer "Baby I Love You".  It's a cage.  We bought metal, reasoning that Pete might be able to chew his way through a plastic one.  And it's a cage that you can move about and reconfigure to be a fire guard or a barrier or an aforementioned "play yard" so that it doesn't feel like a cage and, if you think about it, aren't we all really just trapped inside our own little cages?

I know someone who, thankfully, now is.

Well somebody's pleased with his new mobility.

It's been a dry and (unseasonably, they claim) cold few days, but the rain of last week picturesquely became snow on the mountains.

Ambition is greater than ability.

Morning light and fog at the Vancouver docks.

We agree!

On a wander around we passed again by Pirate Joe's.  They're not dodging the publicity.

I once saw something similar, in The Silence of the Lambs.

Getting maximum use out of the "play yard".

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Sea-to-Sky Highway

We're on the edge of the world up here.  If you need any proof just look at the price of postage on Amazon for anything delivered to Canada.  I shouldn't complain, given that Hannah could have been sent to Angola or Kazakhstan, but still - free shipping over $25 is a basic human right.

But an advantage to being on a frontier is that we can get out into the wilds pretty quickly.  In 20 minutes, in fact, and on the way we had to drive through a 1,000 acre forest while technically still in the city (like the 100 Acre Wood, it contains bears).

The other side of the bridge from the Vancouver peninsula you quickly join the Trans-Canadian Highway, which has an evocative enough name itself, but when it hits the Pacific you turn right onto the Sea-to-Sky Highway.  And now you're in the middle of nowhere.  Forested mountains, their tops already dusted in snow, drop to the waters of Howe Sound, and equally rugged islands with names like Anvil and Keats sit on stormy waters under grey skies.  Signs warn you to carry snow chains beyond this point (which we didn't) and others instruct you not to stop because rocks will fall on you.

It was all a bit breathtaking.  Luckily in Lions Bay we found a lovely tea room and inhaled again thanks to a cup of English Breakfast and a morning glory muffin.  The whole road is 250 miles long, and I don't much fancy driving it when the snow comes down.  "This is just a tiny chunk of the vast massiveness!" commented Hannah poetically.  Never a truer word.

I shall not be attempting to learn the Squamish language any time soon.

Round the corner from Vancouver, and here we are.

Totem poles aren't things that are worshipped, they record the history of a particular place.  Unfortunately that stone to the left is where they'll put the explanation, so I'm not sure what happened here yet.

I did all that work on the Sea-to-Sky Highway Improvement Project and still they spell my name wrong.

Yep, plenty of sea and sky.

It's 900 miles to the nearest road?!  Then I remembered that we're metric up here.

I think that might be Bowyer Island.

Hannah, tea, muffin.

Someone still doesn't entirely appreciate his snow suit.

A final view on the way home to relative civilisation.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Going native

To start with, it rained all day.  Heavily.  Everyone told us to brace ourselves for Vancouver weather but, to be fair, that was comparing here to California.  If you grew up in England then the constant patter of drips on one's head and the feeling of always being slightly damp is quite comforting, like bread and butter pudding.

That said, the sheer volume of downpour today was quite remarkable.  We've hired a car for the weekend and Pete and I had to travel to pick it up from North Vancouver by SeaBus.  He was puzzled but nicely cocooned in his plastic-covered buggy, I wasn't quite so lucky.  My waterproof kept everything that fell on me out, but wet soaked up through my shoes and jeans until I was drippy inside.

To cheer ourselves up, after Hannah finished work we had dinner at White Spot.  Eating at this local family restaurant chain is a Vancouver tradition - Hannah has been nagged by her colleagues all week to go.  People around here grew up on it, and it's also a tradition to say "it's not as good as it used to be."

I decided to go fully Canadian by ordering poutine.  It's a dish that originated in Quebec, and is basically chips and gravy with cheese on.  I've had something similar late on a Friday night in Durham on a few occasions so I don't know why Quebec gets bragging rights (we've also had the pleasure of trying the Chilean version).  Tonight mine included mushrooms and bacon, although I'm told it's not an authentically great poutine at White Spot, as though the relative quality of chips in gravy is something that needs a connoisseur's judgement.

We watched hockey on the telly (note I have already dropped the "ice") and then came home to hang coats and trousers up in front of the gas fire.  Cultural integration is coming along nicely, and should the rain keep up I'll try out another Canadian attribute: every comment on the weather should be a question.  Wet enough for ya?

Why is there plastic over my buggy?  Some kind of UV protection?

Stormy waters as we cross Vancouver Harbour on the SeaBus.

After a tough (four day) week at work Hannah needs something to take the edge off.

Pete is unimpressed, probably because there's some greenery on top.

Oh yeah, for dessert we shared a salted caramel whisky milkshake.  It was a healthy dinner.

Push the round thing with your stick into the net thing!  They chant this at hockey games all over the country.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Hollywood lives

They film quite a few things up here in British Columbia.  In fact, here's a handy list of 300+, and while the locations of Air Bud: Golden Receiver may not inspire a pilgrimage in the way the sites around San Francisco where Hitchcock shot Vertigo do, there are many notable titles here.  Like Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed.

Anyway, it's the generous tax breaks the local government gives to people who make the drive from LA, so you can imagine how excited I was when two film shoots were scheduled in and around the Westin Hotel, which you can see from one side of our apartment.

Disappointingly, the first seemed to be an advert for Westin Hotels, so no point in getting my paparazzi lens out.  But today they were filming for the telly series Rogue.  You've never heard of it?  Well, it's about Grace, a morally and emotionally-conflicted undercover detective, who is tormented by the possibility that her own actions contributed to her son's mysterious death.  As Grace struggles to become the wife and mother her family now needs, her life is further complicated by a forbidden relationship with crime boss Jimmy Laszlo. In order to stay alive, Grace needs to help Jimmy find the traitor in his midst, while knowing he may have played a part in her tragedy.  Thank you Google.

Aside from war and cricket, film making involves the most standing around of any profession.  That was obviously said by someone who knew nothing about cricket, but watching large numbers of people hang about in pouring rain, outside a hotel that was still trying to operate as a hotel, did not seem as glamorous as a red carpet at the Oscars had led me to believe.

Did I see anyone famous?  I'm not sure.  Thandie Newton, star of Mission: Impossible II and The Chronicles of Riddick is meant to be in it, as is Marton Csokas and he was in The Lord of the Rings.  Actually Ian Hart, one of my favourite British actors ever, was in a few episodes, but watching everyone wait around for a few moments of action - an actor pulling a suitcase up to the hotel doors - and seeing that repeated several times got boring surprisingly quickly.  Maybe when they make Scooby-Doo 3 things will be more impressive.

LA or Vancouver?  Hmmm.

Lights, camera...hang on...wait...hang on...

Possibly a famous actor.  He was the one pulling the case.

More people sitting.

Is that Thandie Newton?  Probably not.


Another camera filming something.

And that's what Pete thinks of it all.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Local park

We have the Internets again!  Which means I can tell you about our walk around Stanley Park, our local bit of green space.  You can see its trees from our window.

We decided to stroll around the seawall, something of a local landmark itself - a trail that leads all around the outside of the park with the sea on your right the whole way (or the left, if you're going in the other direction).  Unfortunately it quickly became apparent that Stanley Park is 1,000 acres in size, so after walking for quite a while and getting nowhere we turned around.

But what we saw on the way was pretty good.  There's evidence of 3,000 years of human habitation in the park by Canadian First Nations and a great selection of totem poles to commemorate this.  There are also cricket and rugby pitches, a rowing club, an aquarium, and a naval base that fires a gun at 9pm each evening (it has its own Twitter account).  And that's just our corner!  Plenty of exploring to do, mostly in the rain.

Back home I decided it was time to hang pictures on the walls.  We're still wading through packing debris but at least we have something nice to look at while we trip over.

Sunday morning snooze with Mummy.  Daddy was up unpacking and tidying things.

Boats, and the rowing club.

Is that a smile?  Is someone getting to love his snow suit?  (Hint: no).

Doing a very Vancouverite thing: the Sunday seawalk stroll.

Chevron owns most of what you're looking at.  And me.

Totem poles!  They're cool, that's just understood.

A few more blazing autumn colours.