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.
Boston was a rushed trip. With a full slate of work activities and many of the city’s best craft breweries and craft beer bars a train ride away from the core of the city, I had to make due with some selective and time-efficient sampling. I got a good start by picking up six cans at The Urban Grape, an independent beer and wine store a ten minute walk from my Back Bay hotel. I got very lucky as these were all at least solid and interesting beers. Three were real standouts – the Devil’s Purse Kolsch (a style I’m really gravitating to lately as a result of this particular can), Whirpool’s American pale ale (the citrus, the crispness, the thoughts of summer it induced… perfect!) and the Lamplighter Cuppa (a British pale ale infused with coffee which sounds strange, but was a slice of alchemy) all made me very happy. What made me sad was the limited time and work responsibilities meant I wasn’t polishing off any of these cans in full. Pouring half of the Cuppa out almost brought a tear to my eye.
I can’t think of the Boston Bruins without remembering what I think was the greatest game in NHL history. March 21, 1991. Ron Tugnutt of my Quebec Nordiques made 70 saves, including a point-blank glove save off of Ray Bourque late in overtime, to preserve a 3-3 tie against the Bruins in Boston. It was one of the few highlights of being a Quebec Nordiques fan before the team moved away and won the Stanley Cup in their first year in Denver. By and large, that means the NHL is dead to me. The one infrequent exception to this is when I’m visiting an NHL city and there’s a game on.
Back in November in Boston, I picked up a cheap ticket on the secondary market (I refuse to directly fund the NHL or any of its teams) and made my way to the rink to check out a Bruins game against Minnesota. Cheap ticket means an upper deck seat, but pre-game I settled into a couple of pricier vantage points to check out the TD Garden.
All I could think about was “lobster roll”.
My trip to Boston in November for work didn’t allow much sightseeing time, but everyone has to eat, right? And since you have to eat, you may as well make good choices. As a landlocked Saskatonian, my eating plans whenever I get near a coast involve unholy amounts of seafood. And on the east coast, my mind turns to lobster, and in particular, lobster rolls.
You can imagine my glee when I discovered one of Boston’s best lobster rolls was a short two block walk from my hotel in the Back Bay. I strolled into Luke’s Lobster and after being momentarily distracted in noticing that their in-season crab was from New Brunswick (yea Atlantic Canada!), I ordered a lobster roll and with the tiny bit of restraint I had, took time to snap this picture of it in all its crustacean beauty…