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!

***

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!

***

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

Advertisements

A Birthday Surprise in Toronto

Toronto: a very cold city where I got to spend this last weekend with my friends and family eating, drinking and trying to keep warm!

***

My mom turns 50 this year and in celebration of that, she planned a Hawaiian-themed party: Hawaii 5-0 (my mom is brilliant). Unfortunately, me being a 5 hour and $500+ plane ride away meant I would not be able to attend. But some very kind relatives of mine helped me do something about that. They bought my ticket and planned for me to surprise my mom at her party on Saturday!

So on Saturday night I called my mom to check in on her party.

“Hi Moo! How’s the party going?”
“Good! Thanks for calling, Boo. How are you?”
“I’m good. Your dress looks nice.”
“Thanks. Yeah, I told you I was wearing the long red one.”
“And your hair looks nice too.”
“What? My hair?”
“Yeah, it looks beautiful!”
“What do you mean? Did someone send you a photo?”
“Nope!”

By this point I had snuck up the elevator, passed the security guard and had inched my way into the party room. I rounded the corner and tapped her on the shoulder.  And then our conversation turned into lots of hugs, camera flashes and my mom continually exclaiming, “What! How?”.

SURPRISE!

SURPRISE!

Rocking our best Hawaiian gear!

Rocking our best Hawaiian gear!

All in all, the perfect surprise 🙂

The rest of the weekend was pretty wonderful too. I spent Friday with my sister: we got sushi, watched Mockingjay and finished the night with Menchies (basically the 3 things in life that bring us joy). On Saturday I went out for dim sum with my girlfriends and we did a little shopping around the city. On Sunday, mom and I did brunch in the morning and then dinner with some other friends that night.  And then Monday was spent packing, pretending to do homework and spending a little bit of time with my aunt and baby cousin.

We <3 Menchies!

We ❤ Menchies! 

Not sure if they're impressed with the dim sum options...

Not sure if they’re impressed with the dim sum options…

Beautiful Mama at brunch

Beautiful Mama at brunch

***

I loved being able to come home and celebrate with my mom on her big day. And it was great that I was able to see so many other friends and family members on such a quick trip. As much as Vancouver is becoming home to me too, a large part of my heart is always going to be with my loved ones in Toronto.  See you guys in less than a month!

 

 

Tokyo Twenty-Two

On July 17th, I turned 22! (cue Taylor Swift’s lyrical interpretation of this new milestone)

****

I’ve gotten to celebrate my birthday in some pretty cool places: I turned 14 at a beachside resort in the Philippines, 18 on horseback in the Dominican Republic, 21 squealing over penguins in Cape Town, South Africa and now 22 in Tokyo!

On my actual birthday, I didn’t do much outside of my usual routine.  I still woke up at 8am, ate breakfast with Mrs. Koseki and headed off for school by 9am.  At school, the students wished me a happy birthday and the rest of the day continued with lessons as planned.  Of course, spending all day learning Japanese wouldn’t be my first choice for a birthday celebration, but I had been expecting it.

After class I took the subway to Tokyo’s Ginza district.  It was a lot like Toronto’s Yorkville, filled with fancy shops and things I couldn’t afford.  But it was fun to window shop and check out another part of this giant city.  I even stopped to treat myself to a few pieces of delicious sushi.  It doesn’t get much better than sushi in Japan!

Checking out Ginza's famous clock tower

Checking out Ginza’s famous clock tower

My first proper sushi in Tokyo!

My first proper sushi in Tokyo!

My host family had let me know that we would celebrate my birthday on the 18th, since Mr. Koseki and Yuko were both away on the 17th.  I wasn’t sure what the celebration would entail, as I’ve heard birthdays aren’t a huge deal in Japan.  But I was so touched and blown away by what they had planned.

On the 18th I came home to a dinner of homemade sushi.  Except, this sushi looked just as good, if not better, than restaurant sushi! And, it was accompanied by a bottle of champagne.  They made me pop the cork and then the whole family tucked in to some delicious food!

Sushi + champagne = perfection!

Sushi + champagne = perfection!

After sushi, they pulled out a cake that had my name written on it and candles bought just for me.  Everyone sang and I tried not to laugh as Mr. Koseki, who actually has a lovely singing voice, struggled to pronounce my name in time with the song.  Pictures were taken, candles were blown out and cake was stuffed into our already full stomachs.

Yuko & I

Yuko & I

"I don't know about you, but I'm feeling 22!"

“I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22!”

The family then presented me with gifts.  I wasn’t expecting anything, but really appreciated the tokens of Japan they gifted me with.  Mrs. Koseki’s aunt gave me a beautiful handkerchief that had Mt. Fuji and two little cats on it.  Mrs. Koseki bought me a traditional fan decorated with Japanese goldfish.  And Yuko gave me the coolest card depicting a Japanese festival.

Beautiful host family gifts

Beautiful host family gifts

After all that, the family took me out to the balcony where we lit sparklers.  I’ve never been one for pyrotechnics, but I really enjoyed watching the sparklers go off, especially when Mrs. Koseki’s aunt seemed almost afraid of hers.

Aunt & Mr. Koseki

Aunt & Mr. Koseki

Sparklers!

Sparklers!

The next day, Mrs. Koseki took me to a LABO party.  LABO is the organization hosting us here in Tokyo and teaching our Japanese lessons.  They also run English clubs for Japanese families and facilitate homestays for Japanese children in English-speaking countries.  At the LABO party I watched a few skits and speeches by the kids, participated in a game of human knot and even gave a speech myself about all of the places I’ve travelled.  I pulled out my pictures, when one kid asked what kind of animals I had seen, and was immediately swarmed by all of the children (and their parents!).  It was a really fun event!

Towards the end of the party, the LABO organizers surprised me by getting everyone to sing happy birthday.  One of the high school girls then presented me with a handmade card she had drawn and gotten her friends to sign.  And one of the moms gave me a package of chopsticks that she explained the LABO moms had handmade for me.

Surprise gifts from new LABO friends

Surprise gifts from new LABO friends

From my host family to people I had just met; I still can’t believe how sweet and kind everyone has been.  22 will definitely be a birthday to remember 🙂

This weekend in Swaziland…

This weekend was Alejandra’s 22nd birthday and we celebrated by taking in some Swazi sights, walking a lot and fitting in a scary number of movies.

****

Friday after work, we picked up a few things in town and headed home just before it got dark.  We had dinner with our family and then hung out with our older brother and some of his friends in the house next to ours.  It was fun to meet some new people, drink yummy rosé and stay up later than we had in a while (aka past 9pm).  We left the guys early to fall asleep watching movies, with an added soundtrack of the always-on TV, music from next door and our friendly neighbourhood roosters. 

On Saturday, we started Ale’s birthday off with what we thought was a trip to the Ezulwini Craft Market.  First we walked with Sonto to the Corner Plaza for lunch at Galito’s and then turned the corner to find 6 stalls set up.  The crafts were beautiful, and we managed to find a few little things to bring home.  The other UBC girls had told us about a market with hundreds of stalls, so when Sonto said the next market was just down the road, we figured that’s where she was taking us.  Almost half an hour (of mainly uphill) later, we arrived at the entrance to the Royal Swazi Spa to find one craft stall! I was a little disappointed, but I’m sure the walk was good for us; we’ll visit the actual market some other time.

Image

The small market we found full of practical items like huge wooden fish

 Once home we passed out on our beds, watching movies and relaxing from our walk, until dinner time.  After dinner, we started on Ale’s birthday dessert: brownies and ice cream!  She blew out her candles and we dished out the yummy dessert, which was a huge hit with our family (way better than the baked mac n’ cheese disaster).

Image

Ale and our younger brother Sakihle

Sunday morning was a slow start for us but we eventually made it over to SOS (we can’t seem to go a weekend without stopping by work) to meet the other UBC girls.  The three of them, two of us and a bunch of girls from the youth home headed out to Sibebe Rock.  Sibebe is the second largest freestanding rock in the world and the largest granite one.  Ale and I had heard mixed stories about hiking or rock climbing Sibebe, but the SOS girls had just planned for a picnic at the base.  We piled 13 into a truck/van and took a very bumpy ride over to Sibebe.

Once at the rock, Laura, Karen, Ale and I decided to hike up a little and take in the views.  The whole climb is about 3 hours but it was already late afternoon by the time we got there, so we didn’t have time to do the whole thing.  The view was beautiful; I’m always amazed at how varied the landscape is for such a small country.  Flats planes covered in tall grass met giant boulders that bent into a green valley dotted with homes in the distance.  Laura remarked that it was the quietest she had ever heard Swaziland.  We took some photos and headed back down to join the other girls for a picnic of ham sandwiches, s’mores and chips.  The girls had never roasted marshmallows before and we were more than happy to introduce the traditional Canadian camping snack into their diets. 

Image

The view from Sibebe

Image

We made it (about 20 minutes up, with some huffing and puffing) !

The truck/van came back to get us and this time we piled 15 girls into the back for a total of 18 in the vehicle.  This is a vehicle that has 3 actual seats and a trunk that comfortably fits a single mattress, or uncomfortably fits 15 grown women.  Squished against the metal frame with the cold wind rushing in from above and one of many singing/screaming girls sitting on my feet, I couldn’t think of a worse transportation experience.  But we laughed as the youth home girls belted out songs (their favourite being a chorus of everyone’s names) as we raced over bumps and around corners.  After a little confusion with the directions, the driver brought us right to our home and I, a little bruised and numb, slid out of the trunk with a sigh of relief.  Ale and I waved goodbye to our friends and finished the night with a little plate of dinner, bigger cup of ice cream and yet another movie.

Image

15 ladies piled in the back!

Image

This vehicle held all 18 of us!

****

All in all, an amazing weekend here in Swaziland!