A Family Weekend At Pender Harbour

2017 marked my third year of going up to Pender Harbour with Colin and his family for their annual vacation. Every year, Colin, his parents and a bunch of other relatives spend the July long weekend at cousin Larry and Marnie’s property in Pender Harbour on the Sunshine Coast.

On one of our early dates, Colin told me about Pender and how he has spent every July long weekend of his entire life camping with his family there on the coast. I was blown away. I’ve gone on lots of trips and family vacations but never anything this consistent. We talked with family this weekend who have been coming up to Pender for 20, 30, 40 years! One cousin, Carl, who is probably in his 40’s has been coming up since he was in his mom’s womb!

On my third year up at Pender, I’m starting to feel like part of the tradition. I love the idea of this being an annual trip that Colin and I continue for the rest of our lives, bringing our own big tent (I don’t think we’ll ever be trailer or RV people) and kids one day. One thing I’ve done for the last three years at Pender is keep my phone off (save for a few photos!). They do have WiFi up there but I really love being able to disconnect for a long weekend.

Ellie loves belly rubs no matter where we are!

Firewood for our nightly campfires

This year was amazing! We had great weather: sunny but with a cool breeze. There was tons of delicious food – Marnie makes an incredible seafood chowder and Jackie brought out so many great snacks. And we got to bring Ellie, which was so much fun! There were almost a dozen dogs up there (and between 20-50 people depending on the day) so she had a great time running around and playing. We hiked through Francis Point Peninsula Park, swam in the chilly water, got warm by the campfire and read in the shade. And I didn’t have to participate in the horseshoe tournament, which I think everyone appreciated!

Happy Canada Day from Ellie!

And Happy Canada Day from Margie’s dog, Doodle!

One thing that made this year’s trip incredibly special was a boat ride we took on Saturday. We went out on Larry’s big boat, which I haven’t gotten to do in the years previous. He took almost 30 of us out and we got to see some amazing views of the bay. But the really special part was the tribute that Colin’s mom Margie had planned. Randy, Colin’s dad, loved Pender Harbour. It was definitely his happy place. And he loved nothing more than being out on the water with the guys, catching fish on Larry’s boat.

Living the luxurious boat life!

Colin and his friend, Connor, enjoying the yacht life

So to honour him, Margie brought some of his ashes up to Pender Harbour so we could lay him to rest in his favourite spot. Once we had boated out to a calm area in the open water, the ashes were distributed into little cups so everyone could get one. Dave said a quick toast and we all raised our cups to Randy while his favourite Adele song played in the background. We tossed his ashes into the water and threw some beautiful flower petals in afterwards. It was a really beautiful moment to be with so many of Randy’s favourite people in his favourite spot. You could definitely feel his spirit there.

Flower petals floating on the water

Pender Harbour was amazing! It was a trip both Colin and I have been looking forward to for months. We had a great five days on the coast and I’m already looking forward to going back next year. I usually hate repeating destinations because there is so much more in the world that I want to see and explore. But there’s something different about Pender Harbour. It’s a special place and I would be so happy to visit it every year for as long as I can!

Colin and Ellie at Francis Point Peninsula

View of the house from the dock

We ❤ Pender!

Camping at Weever Lake with Ellie

Last weekend, we went camping with Colin’s friends and our wee pup, Ellie, got to join us!

10 points if you can spot Ellie!

Growing up, I was never much of a camper. It wasn’t a huge part of my childhood growing up in Toronto. I do have one distinct memory of going camping with my dad, Ali and Jade. And we really camped! We had to portage in to the campsite, which meant carrying a canoe overhead with my dad who is 6’4″. And because there were no toilets, I decided to build one out of rocks. Jade also ended up getting spooked by potential bears, forcing us to share a tiny tent with our parents overnight.

And then two summers ago, Colin and I went camping with some of his x-ray friends. Except, it rained the entire time. Like, POURED! Our tent was soaked so we decided to sleep in Colin’s old beat up car where the seats didn’t even recline all the way back. I think it’s still the worst sleep of my life.

So suffice to say, I’m not huge on camping.

But this weekend was actually pretty fun. There were a few snafus, but on the whole it was a really great weekend. For one thing, the sun was shining and we didn’t have to deal with any rain. We were able to drive right up to the campsite and the outhouse was actually fairly clean, so no need for a DIY rock toilet.

Ellie & Colin singing along to our roadtrip playlist on the ride up

We spent our first night playing card games and drinking with Colin’s friends. Unfortunately, that meant I did have to wake up in the middle of the night and walk out to the outhouse, which wasn’t my favourite. It was also so cold at night! I always underestimate how chilly it’s going to be sleeping outdoors in a tent. My teeth were literally chattering.

The next morning was nice and relaxing. Colin played boardgames with his friends while I read my book and Ellie chased butterflies and chipmunks. Ellie loved running around the campsite, hanging out in nature and picking up food scraps that we dropped.

Hi Ellie!

Around noon, we all decided to head to the lake and do some swimming. Colin and I were under the impression that we would be going straight to the water so we brought Ellie, her life jacket and a bag full of towels and sunblock. But instead of walking the two minutes up the road to the rock beach and dock, we were led on a weird and winding 30 minute hike through the forest. And when we finally caught up with the group, we were super disappointed to find a sad little muddy trail into the water. Colour me not impressed.

Hiking through the forest

We headed back to the campsite with a few friends while the others carried on trekking around the lake. Back at the site, we ate some lunch, played some boardgames and then headed to the much better (and much closer) lake access point. The water was freezing! I only got in as far as my waist, and even that took me a good 20 minutes to achieve. Ellie was in and out in about 1 minute. She was not having the cold water. Colin was the bravest. He headed out to the dock and dove headfirst into the icy cold waters.

Ellie modeling her life jacket

She’s testing out the waters….

After swimming we hung out with the rest of the group, played more games, snacked and got firewood. Later in the evening, we headed over to the fire to cook our hotdogs. Colin and I weren’t horribly inventive with our camping menu. We came up with hotdogs, marshmallows (which we never even opened) and store bought muffins. But one of his friends packed the most impressive meals! She made spaghetti, chicken, baked potatoes, chilli and omelets all over a campfire.

We spent the rest of the night sitting by the fire, chatting with friends and giving Ellie belly rubs while she sat on our laps. It was a really nice evening. We headed to bed and this time I was sure to put on a sweater and grab an extra blanket.

The next morning, we got straight to work taking down our tent and packing up all of our stuff. One part of camping I really dislike is how you end up packing an entire carload just for two people and a dog to spend the weekend. But we did manage to pack everything up pretty quick. That’s also when we discovered Colin had a flat tire. The bumpy road on the way in must have popped a hole. We were a bit worried about it but luckily we were able to fill it up with air on the way home and get it repaired (for free!) the next day.

Our first camping trip of the year and our very first camping trip with Ellie was definitely a success! In July, we’ll be “camping” on Colin’s family property in Pender Harbour. We’ll sleep in a tent but will have access to bathrooms and a kitchen, so it’s not totally proper camping. Which, to be honest, is probably what I prefer. So we’re really looking forward to hanging out by the water, reconnecting with family and introducing Ellie to a new area and lots of other pups.

PS: Yes, I swear other people were camping with us but my phone only seems to come out to snap cute pictures of Ellie or goofy pictures of Colin and me! 

A Granville Island Staycation

So I finally got to use the Granville Island Vancouver Tourism package I won back in April. The timing worked out perfectly: my subletter arrived on Monday, I stayed at the hotel Monday – Thursday, and then headed up to Surrey for my final week before Vietnam.

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Welcome to Granville Island!

Arriving at the hotel Monday after work was really blissful. Even though I’ve been to Granville Island countless times, I was excited to just have a little break. I had spent the whole weekend doing an intense deep clean of my apartment in preparation for my subletter and packing up all of my stuff for the hotel, Surrey and Vietnam. It was so nice to put down the heavy bag I had lugged to work, plop onto the super comfortable king sized bed and just have a bit of indulgent relaxation.

Monday night I had the hotel to myself. It’s comical how much I enjoyed sitting crossed legged on the big bed eating fish n’ chips and watching Jeopardy. Those are the joys of hotel life that really thrill me. I ended my first night with a nice long shower and star-fishing in the middle of the bed with the lights out by 10:00pm.

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Best. Bed. Ever.

Unfortunately, going to work the next day wasn’t as fun. It’s hard to have a real staycation when work keeps getting in the way. Staying in a hotel usually means sleeping in so it was upsetting to be leaving my beautiful big bed before 7:30am.

On Tuesday night, Colin met me at the hotel and we headed to Dockside Seafood Restaurant for dinner, courtesy of the $200 Dockside gift card that came with my contest win. I had heard that Dockside was a nice place but Colin and I were both really blown away with the gorgeous decor, stunning view over the water and delicious food. We got the best seat in the house, right by the window, and thoroughly enjoyed our chili shrimp, prime rib and chocolate lava cake dessert.

We continued living our fake rich lives by heading to the hotel spa/health club and watching our TV show “Flash” from the jacuzzi. We had to blast the volume on the TV in order to hear it over the bubbles of the hot tub.

The next day, I headed off to work while Colin enjoyed a proper staycation by spending the day on Granville Island. He got to sleep in, have lunch at the Public Market and wander through all the little shops on the island – I spent the day printing posters and formatting excel sheets, so he clearly won.

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Super blurry pre-show selfie!

But we reunited that night. We went back to Dockside to finish off the rest of the gift card, enjoying a seafood carbonara and Thai bouillabaisse. We then headed over to Vancouver Theatre Sports League’s Improv Show with the ticket voucher that had come with my contest win. I had seen VTSL shows a few times before and usually found them pretty hit or miss. Luckily, the show we saw on Wednesday was definitely a hit! We laughed our heads off and, despite my nervousness when we got sat in the front row, didn’t get picked on by the actors. We ended our night watching “Survivor” while sharing a Toblerone from the vending machine.

And the next morning, I went off to my last day of work at UBC! That part hasn’t really sunk in yet. I imagine I’ll write about it once I’ve been funemployed a little longer and settled into my 12 day stay in Surrey. But I’m really glad I got to start this big time of transition in my life with a nice relaxing staycation on Granville Island with my favourite person!

A birthday weekend in Harrison Hot Springs

This past weekend I celebrated my 24th birthday by living my dream of pretending to be one half of a well-off elderly couple AKA spending the weekend at Harrison Hot Springs!

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I’ve been lucky that I’ve gotten to spend a lot of my birthdays in some really cool places. I’ve never been the person who wants a huge dinner or night out a club for my birthday. I always prefer to get away somewhere and just spend the day with a couple of special people.  And then stretch out the celebrations by going for lots of birthday brunch dates 🙂 My favourite blogger has a goal to spend each birthday of her 20s in a new country. And while I haven’t quite hit that milestone, I still love the idea of celebrating in special places.

Where I have celebrated so far:
1) I turned 15 at a beach resort in the Philippines with my Aunt Hayley and her family.
2) I turned 18 during my internship in Sosua, Dominican Republic. It was our day off so we spent the day horseback riding and picnicking.
3) Technically I turned 19 and 20 in Toronto but 19 was after spending a month in Peru and 20 was only a week or so after getting back from my first ever Europe trip!
4) I turned 21 in Mbabane, Swaziland and then took off to Cape Town for some more celebrating.
5) I turned 22 in Tokyo, Japan amidst lots of humidity and a delicious sushi dinner.

But back to turning 24!

Colin and I drove out to Harrison Hot Springs on Saturday morning. Our original plan was to be in Calgary this past weekend for the Stampede and to visit with Colin’s family.  Unfortunately, that trip didn’t happen but fortunately it’s because Colin started a new job! Even though our Calgary road trip got postponed, I still wanted it to feel like a bit of a road trip so I got Colin to fill up his phone with a new road trip playlist featuring a lot of 90s/00s hits.

We arrived in Harrison around 1pm and had just enough time to check in, grab lunch and walk along the beach. I was amazed at how tiny and cute the town was! After check-in, Colin suggested a place for a quick lunch. I asked if we should drive and he laughed because it was literally across the street.  Everything in Harrison seems to be right across the street.

The beach! Unfortunately, we didn't get a ton of sun.

The beach! Unfortunately, we didn’t get a ton of sun.

At 2:30pm we had our spa appointment at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa – a birthday gift from my mom. I love spas. Everything is so indulgent and you get to strut around in a flurry of aromatherapy oils and terrycloth robes.  Colin had never been but trust me, he’s now a convert.  We started with a mineral spring soak with lavender mud and then a couples’ massage. We were both in heaven – thanks, mom!

Post-spa bliss

Post-spa bliss

As guests of the spa, we were also able to use the resort’s hot springs pool. What a nice end to our spa appointment – soaking in a warm pool outdoors and sipping on frozen drinks!

Pretending like we're in the Caribbean or something

Pretending like we’re in the Caribbean or something. PS: this is the lap pool; the other pools were much prettier!

After our pool time we returned to our hotel (a whole 3 min walk from the resort) to get showered and ready for dinner. We had reservations at The Copper Room which is, according to online reviews, the nicest restaurant in Harrison.  Most of the reviews raved about the food and made note of the live band and elderly clientele. I couldn’t wait 🙂

And, it totally lived up to the reviews! Colin and I got the chef’s prix fixe menu that included an antipasto plate, raspberry sorbet, entree plate of meats and sides, and a trio of desserts. It was all really tasty (except the mushrooms and artichokes on the antipasto plate, but mainly because we are picky when it comes to vegetables).  We were stuffed but even the next day kept talking about the tender beef and delicious chocolate hazelnut square.

Enjoying our dessert

Enjoying our dessert

But the best part was the dancing. Colin and I didn’t dance but I loved listening to the live band (picture 4 guys in their 50s/60s) who played songs by request so couples (also in their 50s/60s) could get up and dance.  There were lots of birthday and wedding anniversaries being celebrated that night and it was so cute to watch couples celebrating their 30th or 50th wedding anniversary slow dance to their wedding song. And these couples were killing it! It’s obvious they have been taking lessons and practicing just to show off their stuff at The Copper Room.

They requested "Moon Rive" - Awwww!

They requested “Moon River” – Awwww!

After dinner we walked along the beach and around a little lake.  Back in our hotel room, I was content to spend my last hours of 23 watching House Hunters on HGTV.

The next morning I woke up to lots of texts, calls and birthday cards.  I thanked all my well wishers while Colin slept in.  When he finally got up, we walked over to a cute mom and pop restaurant for a nice big breakfast.  After our meal, we walked out to see the actual hot springs sight.  It wasn’t actually much to see but the smell was pretty memorable (and not in a good way). Finally, we said our goodbyes to Harrison and started our journey home with a short detour at Bridal Falls.

Bye Harrison!

Bye Harrison!

Bridal Veil Falls is a cute little mini-hike (don’t worry, I still complained the whole walk up as if it were a real hike) to see these gorgeous waterfalls that are meant to look like a bride’s veil. It was a nice stop and only 20 mins outside of Harrison. From there we got back into the car and I introduced Colin to the musical “In The Heights” as we drove back to his house in Surrey.

Bridal Veil Falls!

Bridal Veil Falls!

Back at Colin’s, his mom had planned a really nice birthday dinner for me.  Unfortunately, she had pinched a nerve in her shoulder and was bed-ridden.  We had a delicious BBQ chicken satay with corn and potatoes.  For dessert, she had made a jello cake for me – I had never had one before but it was so tasty! We walked it into her room so they could sing happy birthday to me all together.  It was a really sweet end to a wonderful birthday weekend! And to make matters even sweeter, my friend Andrea sent over a delicious box of chocolate covered fruit.

Jello Cake with exactly 24 candles!

Jello Cake with exactly 24 candles!

Chocolate goodness from Andy!

Chocolate goodness from Andy!

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Here’s to another year older and (hopefully?) wiser!

A weekend in Pender Harbour

Every year, my boyfriend’s family gets together in Pender Harbour on the Sunshine Coast.  His mom’s cousin, Larry, and his wife, Marnie, own a water-front property up there.  Every July long-weekend they invite everyone and their dogs up in trailers, RVs and tents for a week of kayaking, fishing, marshmallow-roasting and drinking. The highlight of the week is the big horseshoe tournament and roast dinner where the winners get their names added to the coveted trophy.

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Last year, after my China misadventure, I came home and was lucky enough to be able to join Colin and his family for the last few days of their 2015 Pender Harbour trip.  It was the perfect China antidote: clean air, lots of love and family, and a perfect escape back to nature. I elected to keep my phone off and just enjoy the people and the place.

This year, Pender Harbour fell just one day after we returned from our Toronto wedding and quick trip to Montreal.  We arrived back in Vancouver around 10pm on Tuesday, I worked Wednesday and Thursday, and then Colin picked me up Thursday after work to drive to the ferry terminal.  It was a crazy week for sure but Pender is the perfect place to relax after some crazy.  Unfortunately, Colin and I were only able to stay for the long weekend as we both had to work Monday, so it wasn’t quite as long and relaxing as we would’ve liked.

View from Marnie & Larry's deck

View from Marnie & Larry’s deck

We arrived Thursday evening and got to work pitching Colin’s brand new 8-man tent.  He had previously bought a 3-man tent but I nagged him relentlessly until he upped the size.  8-man may have been a bit large but it was nice to stretch out and have lots of room for our stuff.  Colin forgot our bedding, but we were able to borrow lots of blankets, sleeping bags and a miraculous piece of foam to keep ourselves dry and comfy.

By Friday morning, most of the other relatives had arrived and everyone had claimed their spot around the property.  We took a quick walk down to the dock and spent the rest of the morning watching the guys chop down some trees, enjoying Marnie’s homemade fish head soup and playing with baby Kennedy. After some lounging, we decided to drive over to Skookumchuck and hike in to see the rapids.

Colin's Instagram shot of the Skookumchuck Narrows

Colin’s Instagram shot of the Skookumchuck Narrows

I’m not a big hiking person but this actually wasn’t a terrible time.  Looking back (and acknowledging that I have probably repressed the worst parts), I actually enjoyed myself.  The hike was really pretty – there were Jurassic Park-like glades, a beautiful lake and it ended with the natural phenomenon: the Skookumchuck Narrows where differences in water levels creates insane rapids and whirlpools that a handful of brave kayakers take on. There were a few moments of uphill that my thighs were upset about and poor Colin got stung near a very active wasp nest but all in all, it was a great time.  In fact, the hardest physical part of the hike was being squished into Colin’s backseat with his two 15 year old cousins who were all limbs for 30 mins there and back.

Colin and I after the first couple hours of hiking

Colin and I after the first couple hours of hiking

My favourite part about Pender Harbour is ending each night by the fire. I love looking up at the stars and just taking in the quiet with everyone in lawn chairs seated around the fire.  Of course, making s’mores is part of that fun as well!

The next day was all about the horseshoes and the roast! More friends and family poured in for the annual tournament that would consist of 30 games and last apx 7 hours (with a dinner break) thanks to a 2-loss elimination rule.  This is also where I learned that my horseshoe skills have not improved since last year but had, along with my enjoyment level, seriously decreased. But the partner that I bailed on after two games (sorry, Dave!) did go on to win the tournament with his new partner, so I really did them both a favour 🙂

On our final day in Pender, we didn’t get up to a whole lot. We had a nice breakfast and then started taking down our camp, packing up the car and saying our goodbyes.  Unfortunately, we never did find the time or perfect temperature to go swimming and Colin missed out on the guys’ big fishing trip.  So hopefully next year we’re both able to take a little longer off work and extend our stay.  But it was still nice to have our short and sweet visit this year.

**I decided to go phone/internet free for this Pender visit as well so unfortunately I only have a couple photos snapped on Colin’s phone to share**

Montreal for a minute

A week ago Colin and I drove from Toronto to Montreal for a quick 36 hour stay in the French Canadian city. It was a bit of a whirlwind coming off of our wedding weekend in Toronto and knowing we had to fly back to Vancouver just two days after we arrived but I think, despite the heat, we both had a good time.

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We left Toronto shortly after 12pm on Sunday and didn’t arrive in Montreal until closer to 7pm. The trip was pretty smooth sailing for the most part: we listened to the Hamilton soundtrack, counted roadkill (11 and 1/2 on the way there, 8 on the way back) and stopped in Belleville for lunch. But things turned hectic as soon as we entered the outskirts of Montreal.  It seemed like almost every road was under construction and our GPS didn’t know to route us around it.  Poor Colin, who had already been driving for 5+ hours on little sleep, kept getting thrown onto different freeways and one-way streets until we finally made it to our hotel (which we had to circle twice due to lack of parking). Once we got checked in, we flopped on our bed for a quick breather before heading out for a late night dinner.

A couple friends had recommended we visit Montreal’s famous smoked meat restaurant, Schwartz.  We walked the 20 minutes from our hotel and found ourselves in a packed, hole in the wall diner sharing a table with two large Russian men. We ordered a smoked meat sandwich each while admiring the countless newspaper reviews and celebrity photos on the walls. Verdict? Colin loved his sandwich and I was just meh about it. I don’t think smoked meat is really my thing.

First stop: smoked meat!

First stop: smoked meat!

We headed back to our hotel and cut through the Place des Arts.  This outdoor area is completely pedestrian-run and taken over by festivals in the summer. Unfortunately, there weren’t any festivals going on while we were in Montreal but it was fun to stroll through, listening to street performers play their instruments and watching little kids run through the fountains.

Heading out the next “morning” (I think it was past noon by the time we left), we were met with a bit of muggy weather. We decided to walk down to Old Montreal. From a handful of trips to Montreal, I think this might be my favourite part of the city. I love the cobblestone streets and cute little shops. We stopped at Chez Suzette and indulged in some delicious breakfast crepes. So yum!

YUM!

YUM!

After eating, we walked up to Notre Dame and I was pretty blown away. It reminded both Colin and I of the gorgeous churches in Europe. We paid $5 to go inside and I think it was well worth it. From there, we strolled down to the Old Port.  We happened to stumble upon this really cool amusement park-type thing that had a bunch of inflatable bouncy castles – except they were all different pirate ships. And on the other side, it had an insane ropes course (easily 3-4 stories high with 20+ obstacles) that ended with a zipline across the water. If Colin and I weren’t scared to death of heights, it would’ve been a lot of fun to give that a try.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

We walked back to the hotel for a mandatory air conditioning break.  It took quite a lot of cajoling by Colin to get me back outdoors but we finally did make it back out. We took an Uber (because Colin was done with driving in Montreal) to Mont Royal to check out the scenic viewpoint. And I guess all of Colin’s cajoling was worth it because the view was stunning!

Overlooking Montreal from Mt. Royal

Overlooking Montreal from Mt. Royal

From there we took another Uber to St. Joseph, Montreal’s most famous church. When we first got there, the sight of the stairs almost had me turning back but I made it up and we found an escalator for the last bit.  To be honest, I wish we had seen St. Joseph before Notre Dame as I was actually a little unimpressed. This is the church where Celine Dion was married but I didn’t find the inside nearly as spectacular as Notre Dame.

St. Joseph

St. Joseph

One cool part about St. Joseph was the gardens outside. You follow a path through a dozen or so statues that depict the crucifixion of Christ. It was actually really interesting because they set it up so that you’re walking uphill just as the statues would show Christ carrying his cross up a hill.

After all that sight-seeing, it was time for dinner. We headed to La Banquise so Colin could get his much sought after Montreal poutine. We had planned to visit another poutine place but our hotel concierge insisted that La Banquise was the best poutine in the city.  The restaurant itself was really cool and, of course, really busy. We managed to snag a table and ordered our poutine. Colin got a smoked meat version (he’s hooked on that smoked meat) while I opted for one with cheese sticks and marinara sauce instead of gravy (I don’t actually like poutine, so this was my compromise).  And since I’m not a poutine lover, I’ll have to trust Colin’s verdict that this was the best poutine he has ever had.

Colin enjoying his poutine!

Colin enjoying his poutine!

Following dinner we dragged our full bellies one store over for  dessert at La Fonderie.  We got a small chocolate fondue and it was delicious. I’m sure there is better (and cheaper) fondue to be found in the city but we were satisfied – so satisfied that after our fruit was gone we kept sticking our fingers in the bowl to get more of the yummy chocolate!

The next morning we had to pack our bags and get started on our long drive back to Toronto. While we didn’t get super lost this time (just one wrong turn out of Montreal), we did hit some crazy traffic coming back to Toronto making our journey another 7 hours.  But before we left Montreal, we had to sample some Montreal-style bagels!

Bagels for the road!

Bagels for the road!

We headed to Fairmount Bagel, the oldest bagel shop in the city, and picked up two poppy seed and two chocolate chip bagels.  They were extremely dense and we both enjoyed them.  Though eating them in the car without a knife to spread the cream cheese did prove a little difficult.

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And that was Montreal! It was a short little trip but fun to play tourist and fill our bellies with all of Montreal’s finest.  I hadn’t been to Montreal in about 7 years so it was nice to head back and Colin definitely enjoyed his first trip. We were both big fans of the architecture and the food but decided that the humidity and language barrier would be enough to discourage us from moving cross-country permanently.

Victoria Day in Victoria!

Since moving to Vancouver in 2010, I’ve been to Victoria a handful of times.  It’s always a quick day trip (except one overnight for work, that doesn’t really count) where most of my time is spent commuting. Which is probably why I’ve always said that my favourite part about Victoria is the beautiful ferry ride.

Now, the ferry is no longer the favourite.

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That’s not to say I don’t still love the ferry, because I do! I love the giant soft serve ice cream, strangely alluring need to browse the gift shop and ability to always see some awesome aquatic wildlife from the deck. But now I’m coming around to so many other cool things in Victoria itself.

I convinced Colin that it would be really fun for us to spend Victoria Day in Victoria.  Sorta like how my dream is to eat a nanaimo bar in a Nanaimo bar. So we decided to head over to the island for a quick Sunday/Monday trip.

A few highlights from our trip:

We arrived early on Sunday afternoon and got to check out a cute outdoor market and the famed Munro’s Books. I love outdoor markets – I would literally plan my days in Europe around which markets were open when. And Munro’s Books is a place I could spend hours and millions of dollars in.

Munro's Books

Munro’s Books

Our next idea was to find a brewery. We had one selected, but it ended up being closed on Sundays (one of the downsides of Victoria – there was also a high tea place I wanted to visit that was closed Sunday/Monday). So we headed to Phillips Brewery. To be honest, I was expecting a cool little tasting section but it was just a place to fill up growlers. Oh well, next time!

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After that we stopped for lunch at this cute pizza place with giant glass windows. I think it’s a chain but I’m forgetting the name of it. Anyway, it was delicious!

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After pizza we walked towards the Empress Hotel. One day I want to really splurge: spend the night there and go for their $80 high tea.

From there we walked over to the parliament building. I’m always struck by how gorgeous our parliament building is – to be honest, it sorta puts the Empress to shame.  We were really lucky that just as we were strolling by, a high school band was setting up. We figured it might be fun to listen to a song or two. We actually ended up staying for their entire set and having the best time. The band performed modern songs, like Uptown Funk, Bang Bang and even the Game of Thrones theme song, and the kids were loving it. They were all dancing and really getting into their music. It was so much fun – maybe the highlight of the weekend!

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Next we walked over to Fisherman’s Wharf. I didn’t realize Victoria also had a Fisherman’s Wharf and it was sorta reminiscent of San Francisco’s. And there were seals!  Three gorgeous seals were hanging out right by the dock and putting on a little show for us tourists who were only too happy to buy them fish to eat and snap their photo.

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We walked around and checked out all of the float homes on the wharf with our ice cream cones. The homes are really cool! Though I can’t imagine the home owners appreciate a bunch of nosy people walking within feet of their homes at all times of the day and night.

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To finish off the night we got some mouth-watering fish n’ chips and took a cute little water taxi back to our hotel. We watched Game of Thrones on a very tiny phone screen and then headed to bed.

Selfie from the water taxi

Selfie from the water taxi

The next morning we headed out to watch the Victoria Day parade! I love a good parade. I’m hesitant to call this one a good parade, but probably because I was raised on the crazy float-abundant Toronto Santa Claus parade.  But what the Victoria Victoria Day (VVD) parade lacks in crazy floats, it makes up for in marching bands.  Whoever said quality over quantity, clearly was not a part of the VVD parade committee. We watched from the sidewalk and again from our breakfast table at Cora’s and saw no less than 8 different marching bands.

After breakfast, we headed out of town and stopped at the Highland Games festival. We watched Scottish dancing, sword fights and a strangely enticing goose maze where an elderly Irish man and two dogs would very slowly attempt to herd a group of scared geese through various obstacles.

And that pretty much wraps up our trip! From the Highland Games we drove back to the ferry. Being a long weekend and us not having a reservation, we were expecting a long wait. And we did wait for a couple of hours, but we managed to squeeze in (second last car!) on the 3:00pm ferry back to the mainland.

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Next up: I serve as a co-maid of honour (co-MOH) at my friend’s wedding in Toronto next weekend.  Stay tuned for details on that adventure!

 

How to visit everyone you know in 4 days flat*

*So “everyone” might be a slight exaggeration, but let me have it

In the last week of August, my guy and I headed back to my hometown of Toronto for an absolute whirlwind trip of family, friends and (of course) food.  We also had to sneak in a few tourist highlights, as it was someone’s first trip to #the6ix.

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Wednesday (Day 1)

We started with a delayed red-eye on Tuesday evening that didn’t have us flying out of Vancouver until 2 in the morning! My family met us at the airport and greeted our groggy bodies and blood shot eyes with giant hugs.

Back at home we dined on a lovely homecooked breakfast before passing out hard for a much-need mid-morning siesta.  By 1:00pm we were awake and on our way to the Toronto Zoo with my siblings.

Getting to know the wildlife at the Toronto Zoo!

Getting to know the wildlife at the zoo!

The zoo was actually a great time. I’m not always a huge fan of zoos and I hadn’t been to one in about a year, and not to the Toronto one in many years.  We took in the special exhibit on the Giant Pandas and then made sure to see everyone’s favourites: gorillas for me, wolves for my sister, careful following of the map for my brother, and a Beaver Tail snack break for my guy.

After a few hours at the zoo and right about when we had had it with Lee’s complaints of sore feet, we headed back to the car and home for a Lee Family BBQ!

It was so nice to catch up with my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents from the Lee side. I love our family get-togethers and know I had missed quite a few. It’s always tough to find time to actually chat with everyone especially when there are dogs trying to steal food, baseball games to watch, adorable babies to play with and way more food than necessary waiting to be consumed.

After all that family fun, our fivesome (who were six for the night) decided to fit in a little more bonding over a friendly game of Texas Hold ‘Em. My sister and I spent the majority of our childhood trying to convince our parents to play boardgames with us or attend disco parties we had planned.  It was kind of nice to spend a few hours doing the adult version of that.  Everyone enjoyed it, even Lee, who I think ended up winning a few hands and then pulling a Robin Hood (stealing from the bank to help his sisters out).  I don’t know who won but I’m pretty sure I came top 3 🙂

Day 1 recap: arrival, zoo & family bbq
Day 1 total # of fam/friends visited: 14

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Thursday (Day 2)

We had to head out straight away Thursday morning to make it downtown in time to join the Ladies Lunching (my mom, aunts and a few cousins) at a cool spot between the financial and entertainment districts.  The food was a bit strange and the company was all female, but my guy pulled through.

After lunch, we loaded my mom up with our suitcases (sorry, mom!) and headed over to The Hockey Hall of Fame. I was preparing for 3-4 hours of absolute boredom.  Turns out, it was actually a good time (and only 2 hours!).  I needed a lot of interpreting but even I could appreciate some of the awesome trophies, the 4D movie and the interactive areas.  Partners of hockey lovers: do not fear! The HHOF is not all that bad!

From there we headed up to Nathan Phillips Square to pose with the newly iconic Toronto sign (courtesy of the Pan Am games) and to meet my wonderful friend, Kimberley, over a few beers.  We got to catch up with Kim, I got asked to be a co-MOH and then we jumped on the subway en route to the Annex.

 

#typicaltourists

#typicaltourists

Reunion over board games!

Reunion over board games!

In the Annex we met up with some more of my high school friends for a great night of cheap food and board games at Snakes and Lattes. I’ve been to S&L lots of times but it’s always more fun with a big group. The 7 of us thoroughly enjoyed ourselves over a number of fast-paced and quick-witted games.

Day 2 recap: lunch, HHOF, beers, boardgames
Day 2 total # of fam/friends visited: 13

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Friday (Day 3)

Friday started with Toronto’s must-do tourist attraction: The CN Tower! Again, I hadn’t been for years so it was a kind of cool (and horribly expensive) experience for me to go back up.  The security is tight (at one point, you walk through a machine that blasts air at you while supposedly searching for explosives) and the views are awesome.  It was fun to get a great view of the city on a non-cloudy day and to try and point out different spots (“I used to live right there!” “Where?” “Look where I’m pointing!”)

View from the top!

View from the top!

We stopped for lunch at the Jack Astor’s outside the big ScotiaBank Theatre and then carried on to Yonge and Dundas where Buskerfest was in full swing.  It was a pretty great time to experience the area, though the mob we got stuck in on the way home (when I desperately needed to pee) was not the best.

Back at my mom’s, we packed up our stuff and caught a ride with my cousin.  Thanks to rush hour traffic, we got to Mississauga about 90 minutes later.  In Missisauga we picked up my other cousin and then headed on to Fort Erie where the Ang Family would be cottaging for the week.

Around 9pm, we pulled into the cottage site and got to explore our new home for the weekend. It was too dark to head down to the beach so we lazed around the living room and got our butts handed to us in a few rounds of Big 2 by my pre-teen cousins.

Day 3 recap: CN Tower, Buskerfest, cottage
Day 3 total # of fam/friends visited: 9

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Saturday (Day 4)

On Saturday morning we woke up and got to appreciate the beautiful lakefront cottage we were staying in.  Our room that night looked right out to the water and we decided to take our breakfast out on the lawn.  A little while later (because it takes a while to get 10 people going) we headed out to Niagara Falls!

Another off the tourist bucket list: seeing the falls! We got to experience them up close with a ride on the Hornblower (formerly known as the Maid of The Mist which apparently the US has copyrighted for boats leaving from their side). I remembered the Maid of The Mist as, just that, misty.  I knew you got the plastic ponchos but I didn’t remember actually needing them.  Well, either I was wrong or something has changed because on the Hornblower we got SOAKED! Even in our ponchos, it felt like we had gone swimming. But it was a great time and no better way to appreciate the beauty and power of Niagara Falls.

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We followed our swim with a walk up Clifton Hills and lunch at the world’s slowest burger joint.  From there we headed back to the cottage for the main festivities: Grandpa Ang’s 80th Birthday! The rest of the family started pouring in and the cooking began in earnest.  We feasted on fish, chicken and 4 different cakes until our stomachs ached.

When you turn 80, you get 4 cakes

When you turn 80, you get 4 cakes!

Family by the fire

Family by the fire

After dinner and dessert, we headed down to the beach so my man could earn his keep by building us a campfire.  12 years in the Boy Scouts proved useful and soon we were roasting marshmallows, singing along to a ukulele and praying the rain would stay away.  There’s something about singing with my family, whether it be to Jason Mraz tunes around a campfire or classic carols on Christmas Eve, that always warms my heart.

Day 4 recap: Niagara Falls, birthday dinner, campfire
Day 4 total # of fam/friends visited: 8

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Early the next morning my extremely kind cousin drove us to Pearson so we could catch our noon flight to NYC.  I love every opportunity to see my family and I think we really made the most of four very short days in Toronto.  We got to see a lot of people and fit in a few tourist classics.  Granted, it wasn’t the most relaxing trip and it sucks that I could only see most people for a single meal, if that.  But any chance to be with my loved ones in Toronto is always worth it.

Grand total: 44! We managed to see 44 members of my friends/family in only 4 days! And that’s not double counting; 44 different people were graced with our presence 😉

Until next time, Toronto!

Getting on board with on-boarding

I spent the last week back in Toronto (again) for Free The Children training aka on-boarding.  I was also able to fit in a few dinners with friends/family and experience some frighteningly frigid temperatures.  The whole week was kind of a whirlwind, but I’m flying back to Vancouver (literally, I’m typing this on the plane) with a ton of information about FTC, new co-workers I’m happy to call friends, an extra blanket of love from my friends and family, and a re-invigoration for my job.  Not bad for a week in -11 degrees, eh?

*****

Bianca (my co-worker from the Vancouver office) and I arrived in Toronto on a rainy, mild afternoon that looked and felt suspiciously like the Vancouver we had just left.  But Toronto was quick to show its true colours: we bundled up in double socks, mittens, hats and scarves every time we left the hotel room that week.

On-boarding started Monday at 9:30am where we met the rest of our cohort (Cohort 34 – what up!) of new (or new-ish) FTC and Me to We employees.  We were also introduced to our on-boarding leaders: Matt and Nabeela.  The rest of the week was a series of sessions designed to give us a greater understanding of the organization’s history, the different departments that make up FTC & M2W and how we fit into the bigger picture.  Needless to say, it was a lot of information!

Coming from a very small regional office – the BC office is currently 17 people strong – it was incredible to get a taste of the 400-person operation at our Toronto headquarters.  I had no idea how big FTC and M2W were! We own 13 buildings in Cabbage Town and are still bursting at the seams.  I love that in an age of charitable exhaustion and tough financial times, I’m working for a charity and social enterprise that is thriving and expanding, without spending more than 10% of any donation on admin costs.

I learned A LOT this week.  Some of it I already knew.  But most of it was brand new and extremely eye-opening.  We were introduced to a bunch of different departments, most of which I had either never heard of or had very little idea as to what they did.  It was incredible to see how every facet of the organization works together so seamlessly to support Free The Children’s mission: working internationally to free children from exploitation and poverty, and working domestically to free youth from the idea that they can’t do anything to change their world.

Raiding the M2W Style closet!

Raiding the M2W Style closet!

One of the most incredible parts of on-boarding was meeting so many of the superb staff in Toronto.  Every person we met was full of energy, full of information and so full of passion and purpose for their work.  It’s equal parts intimidating and inspiring to work alongside such a high caliber of person.

A few moments of on-boarding were particularly impactful for me: the quick friendships I was able to make with my cohort; the dedication, familiarity and wisdom of our leaders, Matt & Nabeela; getting to hear from Spencer West in a casual and conversational environment; meeting FTC senior leadership staff like Scott & Dalal; taking part in facilitation training with Morgan, who the day before agreed to meet with us (and stay late) purely out of the kindness of his heart; and learning about the incredible M2W trip experiences we offer to youth.

I was seriously so blown away by Jeff’s presentation on the service learning trips we offer to youth.  Not only do the trips allow young people to visit Free The Children communities and take part in meaningful service, but they give youth a chance to immerse themselves in a new culture, make connections with community members and go through leadership training.  My own experiences with travel have been beyond transformative in my life.  And it all started with my service trip to the Dominican Republic at 17 years old.  It would be an absolute dream for me to be able to take any part in facilitating that life-changing experience for another young person.

And after full-days of inspiration and information, I spent my evenings catching up with a small number of friends and family members.  It was kind of funny, since I had just been home for Christmas, but I will always take advantage of any opportunity to see my loved ones.  And, who knows when I’m going back to Toronto? At this point, it may not be till Christmas!

So on Monday, Bianca and I joined my mom and cousin Megan for indulgent steaks and other yumminess at The Keg.  Tuesday I met up with Kimberley and Sasha for tacos, overly alcoholic drinks, popsicles and board games! Wednesday I got to see Andrea, Pamela, Lea and Zab for pizza and dessert.  And then on Thursday, my last night in the city, I went to dim sum with dad, Ali, Jade and Lee and then on to more board games and dessert.  I didn’t get to see everyone (sorry!) but I tried my best to squeeze in as many people as possible in my very quick 5 night stay!

Board games & dessert with the Canning family

Board games & dessert with the Canning family

Yummiest tacos at La Carnita!

Yummiest tacos at La Carnita!

And during that 5 night stay, I had a few different thoughts about Toronto.  Walking around Cabbage Town with the afternoon sun, finding an adorable card shop and amazing sandwich store – that’s the Toronto I love.  A Toronto full of sunshine, shopping, cute neighbourhoods and new friends.  But that quickly turned into blustery cold nights, waiting for unreliable transit, streets filled with traffic and lots of work waiting for me when I returned to the hotel.  I guess if there’s any city I have a true love/hate relationship with, it’s Toronto.  As much as I rag on the weather, crowds and lack of majestic scenery (what do you mean there are no mountains or an ocean?), I can’t help but keep Toronto in a warm spot in my heart.  In fact, I had a physical defensive reaction when a friend of mine expressed how much she doesn’t like the city.  No one can talk bad about my city….except for me! 😉

<3

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So that, in a very long-winded and detail-overloaded blog post, was my week in Toronto! Now it’s back to my 2 jobs (and very full inbox) in +9 degrees, rainy Vancouver.  My next few weeks will be catching up on the work I missed while in Toronto, trying to take advantage of Vancouver’s Dine Out and getting ready for my next short excursion…to San Francisco!

And I’m off again!

So after anticipating a slow travel year for 2015, what with my full-time job in Vancouver and no convenient school holidays to take advantage of, it struck me that I’m already off to a not so slow start.

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In less than 24 hours, I’m headed back to Toronto (wasn’t I just there?) for a week of training at Free The Children HQ.  I’m pretty excited to go through this FTC process and meet a bunch of new long-distance colleagues in our Toronto office.  But I’m a little nervous for keeping up with my on-going work in the Vancouver office at the same time.  And the onslaught of out-going people I’m sure to meet is a little daunting.  However, I am really looking forward to catching up with a few friends and family members during my short 5 day visit.  If only the frigid negative temperatures could stay away for those 5 days!

And then I’ll be back in Vancouver for a week and a half before taking off to… San Francisco! I found a pretty cheap flight (less than $200 roundtrip, leaving from Bellingham) and wanted to take advantage of our Family Day long weekend.  It was a fairly spontaneous decision, and I’m sacrificing 3 vacation days (of my 10 for the year), but I’m so stoked to be going to SF.  I first visited “Frannie” back in 2012 with my mom.  In fact, it was one of my first blog posts and moments of solo travel.  I’m really excited to revisit a city that I love and to spend time with some awesome friends who call Frannie home.

I cross back into Canada during the wee hours of the morning on Feb 10, only to return to the States two days later! This time, it’s for work.  And, it’s only to Mount Vernon (2 hours from Vancouver).  But I’ll be meeting with some of my Washington State youth and educators for the first time and get to practice some facilitation skills. Plus, I’ll be going down with my Team Washington crew and rumour has it we might stop at the outlet mall on the way back 🙂

Granted these upcoming trips (to Toronto, San Francisco and Mount Vernon) kind of pale in comparison to where I was headed in Jan/Feb of 2014 (5 days in Iceland before moving into my new apartment in Amsterdam and spending a long weekend in Milan).  But that’s okay.  Now that I’m more settled, I anticipate many more small trips to closer places.  There are a ton of places around Vancouver I’ve only been to once (like Victoria and Whistler) or haven’t explored at all.  And with my position at FTC, I have the opportunity to head down to Seattle a few times a year.

That’s not to say I’m turning my back on big trips and far off cities.  My scratch-off world map isn’t going to scratch itself! But I do plan to appreciate the more local travel opportunities that I can take advantage of at this point in my life.  I get to be a tourist in my own backyard and keep the ever-present travel bug at bay!

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Holy blog updates, Batman! Seriously, this is like the 3rd post I’ve written this week! I doubt I’ll keep up this publishing schedule, or stick to any schedule religiously, so bare with me during my wordy weeks 🙂