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.
With a downtown hotel, limited time and a number of the sights I wanted to see all nearby, I didn’t get the chance to see a great deal of Atlanta. With what free time I had, I dedicated that to getting to a Braves game and to checking out three museums and tours that peaked my interest. Traveling to and from those things and a couple of restaurants and craft beer bars, I stumbled across some interesting public art over my four days in the city. One of my favourites ended up being a design by fellow Canadian, Jeff Santos of Coquitlam BC. This children’s playground was built in the shape of “ATL”, the airport code and general shorthand reference for the city. I found it visually striking and a nice touch to a public park in the centre of the city.
CNN. Coca-Cola. The College Football Hall of Fame. Intellectually, those don’t really have anything in common. But in downtown Atlanta, within about eight city blocks, you can tour each of these institutions. With my free time in Atlanta in short supply, I wasn’t sure I’d get to all three, so I started with the one I most wanted to see first.
This is CNN.
As someone whose hair started going grey a decade or two earlier that normal, I was mostly hoping this tour would give me the chance to bump into Anderson Cooper for some hair care tips. Alas, he and I did not have the opportunity to regale each other with stories of our distinguished, yet boyishly good looks. I did get to meet Headline News host Mike Galanos and chat with him from the sidelines while his co-host Robin Meade was live on air. It was really interesting to see the polish and performance of the hosts as they were broadcasting live. I’m not sure my demo tape would allow me to make the cut, even though I think I’d be a welcome addition to CNN’s weather reporting.
Southern hospitality is a real thing. When I was in Atlanta, you could feel it in a few distinct ways. First, I was consistently referred to as “hon” or “love” in a way that reminded me of Atlantic Canadian grandmothers. Secondly, everyone I talked to was genuinely interested in having a conversation, and when they learned I was visiting, they were generous with tips on how to best enjoy Atlanta. And lastly, and luckily for someone who is a food and beer lover, the hospitality came shining through every time I sat down for a meal or for a beverage.
My introduction to southern hospitality and food started shortly after arriving in Atlanta from Saskatoon. I was starving, and through a bit of good fortune, I found Max Lager’s, a great gastropub, around the corner from my hotel. My server’s recommendation of the fried chicken was a winner – set on top of mashed potatoes, drizzled with honey and served with some tangy greens, it was a great first taste of Atlanta and was enough food for two. Or one hungry travel-weary Canadian.