Every summer I take a four or five day baseball trip. The calculus is normally fairly simple – where can my airline points get me and where is there a decent deal on a nice hotel. As long as there’s baseball and summer nights with a cold beer in my hand, the teams and the city don’t matter too much. While I was planning my trip this year, I had more trouble than normal finding a combination that would work in my schedule. I went through permutations for Milwaukee, St. Louis, Denver, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit and a host of other cities until I found that the only place my about to expire United points would get me to was Baltimore. Never really had any desire to visit Baltimore, but Camden Yards and the promise of four days of fresh crab was too good to pass up.
After flying on a red-eye flight through Toronto and sleeping in Pearson for a couple of hours (using points isn’t always glamorous), I arrived in Baltimore slightly jet-lagged, but happy to walk into Camden Yards – a temple of baseball on a scorching hot Saturday night. She’s a beauty ballpark.
When my wife and I plan trips together, there is a lighthearted tug of war over one topic. My wife will ask “can we go to the zoo there?” and I’ll reply “you only get one zoo trip a year.” We share a laugh and continue on with the trip planning. Sometimes the zoo is a no brainer, like in San Diego. I think technically, I didn’t even count that as the year’s zoo. I’m not dead set against zoos, per se. I’m an animal lover, but with some notable exceptions, once you’ve seen one zoo, you’ve generally seen all zoos.
When we planned out our trip to Kelowna, there were two places my wife wanted to visit that looked suspiciously like zoos. We laughed a lot at exceeding the year’s quota in 5 days and I may have requested 2018 to be a zoo-free travel year. The first “zoo” was fun and had me snuggling with a baby walaroo. The second “zoo” wasn’t even really a zoo at all, and it was probably my favourite part of our Okanagan trip that didn’t involve wine. The Arion Therapeutic Farm, a short drive from downtown Kelowna, was in essence a small working farm and conservation park for animals. Before even meeting any of the four-legged inhabitants, the place had me hooked with its sheer beauty.
Upon returning home from five days in the Okanagan I wondered to myself “why haven’t I visited here before?” My wife and I have traveled to some very interesting wine areas in the world – Sonoma and Napa in California, Champagne and Burgundy earlier this year even – so there really isn’t an excuse why we waited this long to visit the premier wine region in our own country. Making up for lost time, one of the first wineries we visited in the Okanagan was Summerhill Pyramid Winery, just outside of Kelowna.
This visit was as much for the view from their winery over Okanagan Lake and to have lunch at their restaurant. Luckily for us, we had a beautiful day to sit outside on their patio to have our meal.
When I hear “Okanagan”, the first thing that comes to mind is wine. On my trip there in August, I visited a lot of wineries and sampled liberally. But I also found ample time to pop into some craft breweries and bars in and around Kelowna for a taste of the Okanagan’s rapidly growing beer culture.
While making Kelowna my base for this trip, it allowed me to visit a number of breweries all within the city limits. Tree Brewing, right in downtown, is the largest craft brewer in the city with a wide distribution network. I was even able to get some of their beers when I lived in Nova Scotia. Their brewery’s taproom is a great space with multiple levels, different seating arrangements and a stack of board games. My wife and I pulled Yahtzee off of a shelf and she proceeded to take the title of Kelowna champion while I sampled a few delicious brews.
We woke up in Kelowna on an August Sunday morning without a firm idea of what we were going to do that day. Over a coffee at the hotel, the plan started to form around the idea of having brunch in Kamloops. My wife had found a really interesting place with a number of delicious sounding gluten-free menu items, and since I drag her to enough sandwich and beer places on our travels, I was 100% in on this one.
We built a loose idea of an itinerary before hitting the road. There was no debate on stop one – the Kangaroo Creek Farm was less than twenty minutes up the highway and was a bargain at $5 to roam around and play with animals. I mean, how could anyone not want to cuddle baby ‘roos?
I got to hold a baby wallaroo named Huggy Bear who was less than four months old. So cute, I almost wanted to carry him back to the car and drive off with a new member of our family.
When my wife and I hit the road out of Saskatoon to Regina in late July, we were embarking on our first “annual tradition” since moving to Saskatchewan. A Riders game. Last year’s game was our first and we had a great time – football, food and for me, the first feelings of belonging in Saskatchewan. With a year on the prairies under our belt, we headed south to cheer on our team in what is now an expected part of every summer here.
And similar to last year, there were preparations before heading to the game. Like applying a Gainer tattoo before making our way out to the stadium…
I’ve written here a few times how much I miss the craft beer scene back in Nova Scotia. I don’t drink a huge quantity of beer, but when I do have a pint or two, I like to try “new to me” beers and while I was living in Nova Scotia I never ran out of something new to sample. Fast forward about a year and a half, and when I got back to Halifax, I had a lot of catching up to do.
Not only was I excited in trying some new beers, but I was also thrilled to get a beautiful spring day to visit a place that had materialized since my move. The Stillwell Beergarden on Spring Garden Road is something that I wish someone here in Saskatoon would replicate just off Broadway. A very simple menu of grilled food, ten taps of Atlantic Canadian beer, and what I can imagine would be a lovely evening spot with the overhead patio lanterns – this is my kind of place. I sampled two beers on my lunchtime visit – the “Malternate Reality” from North Brewing (probably my favourite Halifax brewery) and “Dunder” an Australian pale ale from Trailway Brewing in Fredericton.
Home. A simple concept. Or it least it was until I moved to Saskatoon.
I’ve purposely resisted saying “back home”, choosing to say “back east” when referring to Halifax, or Nova Scotia, or really anywhere in the Maritimes since moving to Saskatchewan. I try to live a principle-based existence and one of the principles at the core of how I want to live is “home is where my feet are.” While that started out as mind over matter in the early days in Saskatoon, as the days turned to months, it became much less of a mindset and became a matter of the heart. And like all matters of the heart, it’s complicated.
My heart’s position on home got tested in June. Heading back to Nova Scotia for my sister’s wedding, it was the first time my wife and I had been back there together since we moved away in the spring of 2016. My heart at times ached. Like when I played the role of a magician and made my niece and nephew “disappear” to everyone at my wife’s brother’s house (the kids still don’t know how I pulled that one off). Or just hanging out with my mom and dad and catching up. An afternoon visit to play with the kids, a cup of tea with my mom or a pint and a hockey game with my dad were things I took for granted a couple of years ago. Now, they’re treasured, and at times like tonight in Saskatoon as I write this, missed.
A lot can change in fifteen months. And a lot can stay the same.
Back in Halifax for a couple of days after my sister’s wedding in the Annapolis Valley this past summer, my wife and I hit a few favourite haunts in our former neighbourhood. We also took some time to experience a few new things in a city that means a lot to both of us. Not surprisingly, one of the first places we revisited was the central library downtown. We had lived two blocks from here and we both used it as a second living room. The view of the city and the harbour from the library is something we both miss.