Two years is both an eternity and a period that can pass in a blink of an eye. It is an almost unfathomable dichotomy of time, save for the fact that we’ve all felt it at some point in our lives. In the two years since I left Halifax for Saskatoon, my parents have moved away, my niece and nephew are growing up at what seems like a lightening pace, and the city that I used to find so familiar, while in many ways remains so to me, is also becoming increasingly foreign as time has marched on for it, much like it has for me.
Being back in Halifax to attend and present at a conference was simultaneously disorienting and welcoming. Between landing in the city and my conference activities kicking off, my wife joined me for a ridiculously short and fun one day visit to hang out with what is left of our family in Halifax. Before that day with family, after a long day of travel, our only plan for a Friday night was a seafood feast at The Five Fishermen just around the corner from our hotel. Mussels, lobster, scallops, salmon, clams, swordfish… we enjoyed all the creatures of the sea we are not afforded in our life on the prairies.
Seafood feed at the Five Fishermen
Here’s how my first hours of every trip to Vancouver go down. Drop my bags at the hotel. Go to my favourite taco place (La Taqueria Pinche… best tacos I’ve had outside of Mexico or San Diego). Make a beeline to one of the ever growing list of solid craft brewery taprooms. Enjoy that one, then head to the next taproom that is always less than three blocks away. Vancouver visits always get off on the right foot. In fact, this is a pattern that can repeat every day of a Vancouver trip. On my most recent trip to one of my favourite cities in the world, I designed a respectable four day craft beer crawl.
With a belly full of tacos I hopped a bus to East Van a couple hours after touching down in Vancouver and settled into the beautiful taproom at Andina Brewing Company. This is a really unique place with most of the beers made with obvious influences from South America. After being stuck in the depths of winter in Saskatoon, sitting in the sun coming through a window felt downright summery, even in February.
These beers were all thirst quenching, with the Lulo Sour my favourite. I also loved that cassava chips came with the tasting flight. Solid start to my Vancouver tastings in a beautiful setting.
In February I traded in the bitterly cold temperatures of a Saskatoon winter for a colder than normal four days in Vancouver. Colder than normal still meant it was the first time in months that I could walk around outside without gloves on. It’s really all about small victories in surviving winter on the prairies. And while for most of the trip I had to carry around an umbrella to stay dry, I did get one nice day to leave the raincoat at the hotel and breathe in the fresh west coast air along the seawall.
I took a bus from downtown to Kitsilano Beach to start a hike along the seawall. My one nice day in Vancouver was actually a perfect February day in Vancouver. Seeing blue skies and water made my coastal, now landlocked heart, very happy.
I like to consider myself a fairly advanced travel planner, but sometimes you just need to tip your cap to serendipity. A week or two after booking my flight to Vancouver for a short winter vacation in February, I came to learn I’d be in the city at the same time as an international wine festival. Quickly scanning the festival schedule, I bought a ticket for a wine tasting event downtown. Three hours, a world’s worth of wines, and now, me.
Before the wine tasting kicked off and after polishing off a very large early dinner to fortify me, I went through the tasting program to find the wines I was most interested in trying. In that process I realized I was going to be taking a trip down taste memory lane from many of my past travels. Wine moreso than food or other drinks can bring my mind right back to a specific place and time.
Like a lot of other attendees, I circled one wine in particular – the Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle Champagne. Since coming back from France last spring and a magnificent trip to Reims, I have been more opportunistic in trying champagnes. Pushing close to $200 a bottle, there was a lineup for this wine most of the night. Anytime there was a break in the crowd I popped in for a sample. It was delicious on the first, second, third, fourth and I won’t say how many more tastings.
Vancouver has become a favourite city of mine, especially now that it is a relatively painless direct flight away. A number of trips there over the past few years created an interesting, and delicious dilemma for my most recent visit – do I retrace my past steps for favourite foods or do I explore some new restaurants and tastes in hopes of adding to my list of favourites? Of course, balance is everything, so in the spirit of “a little from column A and a little from column B” I did both.
There was no doubt that a visit to Vancouver would have to include some seafood, and in particular, sushi. There are a couple of reasonable sushi places in Saskatoon, but arriving at Sushi Itoga on Robson Street reminded me just how amazing truly great sushi can be. I placed my order at the counter, sat down at one of the long communal tables, and a few minutes later, this amazing spread was placed in front of me.
Standing outside the Rogers Arena waiting for the doors to open, huddled with maybe twenty people under an awning to stay as dry as possible during a downpour, I wasn’t too hopeful for the hockey game ahead. The Canucks and Rangers were, in late February, for all intents and purposes outside the playoff race and already thinking of next year. Damp from the walk to the arena and impatient to get inside, I remembered something my wife is fond of saying when we’re watching a football game between two bad teams… sometimes two bad teams can play an exciting game. Little did I know what kind of fun I was in for on this night.
One of my favourite things about going to games is the first view you get of the arena after walking in. I still remember my first view of the Colisée in Quebec City when I went to my first NHL game in the early 90s. Maybe more accurately, I remember the feeling. Walking from the concourse to the seating bowl through a corridor and seeing the entirety of the arena open up to my eyes – bright and clean, with seats stretching at a violent angle to the rafters. Even if today’s arenas are all somewhat generic, there’s an element of that same feeling for each and every new one I get to visit.
Winters in Saskatoon are long. Really, really long. I have found a key aspect of surviving weeks upon weeks of bitterly cold temperatures and darkness is to take things one day at a time and have some form of winter travel plan. Both for the escape from Saskatoon, but also for the joy of planning that escape. I liked last year’s plan – a week in Mexico in late December and then a city break in mid February to Portland. This year due to time and other constraints my plan put all of its eggs into a basket of a few days in Vancouver.
It is not all that hard to find a place warmer than Saskatoon in February, and even though Vancouver was a bit colder than seasonal when I visited, it was a real novelty to not wear a heavy jacket and to be able to venture outside without gloves on. I even enjoyed the nostalgia associated with having to carry around an umbrella during most of my visit, something I never need to do in Saskatoon.
Vancouver was exactly what I needed. A late winter distraction and change of scenery. It had most of the hallmarks of a great solo trip. A couple of fun events – a Canucks game and an international wine tasting fit the bill. There were craft beer tastings at new to me since my last visit East Vancouver breweries. There was wonderful food including a couple of great feeds of sushi. And, of course, there was the water. A rare beautiful blue sky February day greeted me on a day of hiking around the seawall that topped up my spirit with the sights and sounds of the coast. I think this trip will give me just the right amount of strength to see through the final period of winter in Saskatoon, even if that is another month or more.
“Close” is relative. Life on the prairies has me about 4,200km away from where I grew up and where my parents continue to live, in Lower Sackville, NS. When work took me to Boston in November for a few days, that was close enough to loop in a quick visit back home to visit with my folks. And for November, I was treated to some beautiful late fall weather to take in a very familiar view from the back deck of my parent’s place.