Being Thankful in Canada

I´m thankful for Icelandair flying direct from Iceland to Vancouver all year round, especially since they cancelled direct flights to Kansas and I got to trade my one way ticket there for Vancouver. So, instead of a mid-west roadtrip, I got to go to British Columbia during one of the most beautiful times of year.

Vancouver

Instead of cherry blossoms and warm nights, there´s fiery red maples and crisp, cool evenings. The other trees are shades of yellow and orange, to match the pumpkins and Halloween season, while pine trees remain forest green, creating an orchestra of colours. The trees are everywhere, covering mountains, whose peaks were beginning to get dusted with early snow fall.

Beautiful British Columbia

I didn´t lose the itch for a roadtrip, so I rented a car from YVR and drove straight through all of BC. I started in Langley, where I met my 4 month old nephew for the first time, and carried on to Dawson Creek, where my older sister just nested in her new house. After breaking off highway 1 in Cache Creek, I drove the 97 past 70 Mile House, 100 Mile House, 150 Mile House and Prince George. From Dawson Creek, my sister joined and we carried on all the way to the Northwest Territories, driving nearly 500km of the spectacular Alaskan Highway.

stopping to snuggle domestic animals, since the wild game were so far away

I was thankful to visit the Northwest Territories for the first time, and we we´re so overjoyed by the first wild Bison we saw, only to realize there´s be herds of them roaming around Fort Liard, our base for the night. We hiked along Liard River and around Hay Lake, in hopes of a moose sighting, but dreading any bear encounters, since us rookies didn´t have any bear spray with us.

at Pink Mountain

We saw a bear grazing near the highway and a few more bison, along with some elk and even one coyote, but I´ll return to the Alaskan highway in hopes of a moose, or even a bigfoot or sasquatch, sighting. Pink Mountain town has a whole shrine to the sasquatch, and apparently he´s been sighted, and even caught before, in and around that area of the highway.

my sisters and my new nephew

On my way south, I stopped in Ashcroft, couchsurfed the back of a bakery, and made it back to Langley to snuggle my nephew, younger sister, and her mini doodle. Thanksgiving was coming up, and we hadn´t celebrated as a family for over 10 years, so it was time. There were pumpkins to gut and cook, pies to buy and a turkey to stuff and roast, and a dozen of my sisters friends came with other scrumptious sides. We had pumpkin ales, pumpkin spiced Bailey´s and an assortment of local Langley wines after some selective wine tasting in the area.

liquor tasting in Abbotsford

I enjoyed my days training for the 10km Turkey Trot run, held at Granville Island on Thanksgiving day. I finished my second motorcycle exam and rode a Honda 250 around Richmond and Burnaby when the weather was good, and hung out with my oldest friend.

Tandem in Stanley

I´ve known Lisa since we were only 9 or 10 years old, and she was getting married, so we cought up over lunch, went to her wedding dress fitting and then distracted her a bit from the upcoming big day by tandem cycling around Stanely Park.

Stanley Park lunch

Leaving Vancouver left me full of gratitude, for the season, the weather, the coast, the forest, and more importantly, friends and family. My grandma will be 90 next month, and she is the only grandparent I have left and the oldest person I know. She´s still got her wits about her and shares stories of growing up in Guyana that make me thankful for the places and people I grew up surrounded by.

Ending the Turkey Trot in Granville Island under the bridges on Thanksgiving day

The sunshine, the autumn leaves, the warmth of a sun in a sometimes wet and rainy place… the list goest on. I loved roadtripping to new places, and riding a motorcycle to places I had been a hundred times before, but never seen from the back of a bike. Running the 10km loop from Granville Island, over Burrard Bridge, past Science World and thru False Creek made me grateful for my health. And a bit of turkey and pumpkin pie never goes by unappreciated.

Beautiful Northern British Columbia

I have two sisters that live in BC, and my older sister just moved to the north east corner of the province. Kristjana lives in Dawson Creek, which is a real place in Canada, and not the setting of Dawson´s Creek TV show. She´s on mile 0 of the Alaskan highway, only a stones´ throw away from Alberta, and the last week in April seemed a perfect time to explore her new hood. We took a small roadtrip to Grande Prarie, to attend a speakeasy Gatsby party… as one does, when in Alberta.

roadtrip Alberta

We took hikes thru bear country and wind farms, to frozen wateralls and the incredible overlook at Murray Canyon. We hiked near Tumbler Ridge and Bear Mountain Wind Park, without bear spray, but luckily enough we only ran into a wild Moose on the road home – the first moose Ive ever seen, alive. Unluckily, we also drive past 3 dead Moose, and I´m still confused how such a huge animal can be roadkill without a totalled car beside it.

Beautiful Northern British Columbia

Flying into YVR Vancouver Airport is one of my favourite flights – descending slowly into the lower mainland and landing right beside the sea (and a sunset over it, if youre timing´s right) offers spectacular views of the rocky mountains and snow capped ski resorts surrinding the city. You can easily spot the suburbs around Vancouver, and the westend where UBC campus sits, unmoved since 1908.

Icelandair flight 697 direct from Iceland to Vancouver

I didnt spend much time in Vancouver, and its surprising how few friends are still left in the city, leading unsettled lives. I may be the only one, but my younger sister has set some deep roots there with her own family. My grandma will be 90 this year, so I didn´t miss the chance to see her again.

mile 0

My oldest, longest friend Lisa had a new crumpet dog we could take hiking at Lighthouse park, and she´s a dear friend to me because she really makes me feel the passing of time and the value of friendship. While I stagnate as the solo backpacker forever popping in and out of people´s established lives, she´s now invited me to her second wedding (I went to her first, 12 years ago, and happily witnessed her divorce – he was a douche). I try to remember how we went from 9 year old girls riding invisible horses to grown up women going thru such adult lives… but it still seems like just yesterday we used to gallop around the woods in Surrey.

at Lighthouse park

I have kind of (tried to) grow up recently, digging some kind of roots in Reykjavik by buying my first apartment. But, strangely enough, it doesnt feel like home, since I basically just bought it as a place to keep stuff, my stuff, and the only apartment I could afford that fits my gorgeous grand piano. I dont feel like sitting still, even now, with an address of my own, so I´ll just keep visiting, places, people, and their lives, and as long as I´ve got friends and family elsewhere, I´ve always got a home in them.

Vancouver, take 2

I’ve been on my way to get my motorcycle license since I was 17 years old, and I finally renewed my learner’s permit last month. Now I had to do two more riding tests, but didn’t realize they’d be fully booked months in advance. Spring time seems like an obvious time to get it, so I’m an idiot for thinking I was the only genius – needless to say, I didn’t finish my tests within the one week window I gave myself. I did, however, get an overdue pedicure to fix my Fiji-feet to finally looking like summer ready toes.

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picking a colour was the hardest part

Instead, I had sister time, visited my grandma, and did lots of beer and wine tasting with friends and family. Spring had officially turned into summer, literally the day I landed, and getting upgraded to a convertible jeep wrangler instead of the Toyota Yaris compact car I thought I rented felt like winning the lottery.

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I purposely parked under cherry blossoms so they’d flutter into the car and sprinkle my seat with pink pedals

My older sister was set up in a hotel in New Westminster overlooking the Fraser river for some work training, but we spent our evenings either at the hotel in the Jacuzzi, wine tasting, or gorging on sushi and Spaghetti Factory.

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one of the oldest wineries in the Fraser Valley, Mt. Lehman Winery in Abbotsford

My younger sister and her husband live in a brand new townhouse in Langley. My oldest childhood friend also lives there and let me bum around her stable to get my horse-cuddling fix (and some allergies, yay me). We went fruit-wine tasting in Abbotsford and visited the southern-most vineyard in canada – Glasshouse Winery sits at the 49th parallel on 0 Ave, where you look across the street to Washington state.

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Big Rock Brewery tasting paddle

I didn’t make it to Chilliwack or Whistler, my other two go to’s when in BC, but instead spent some time in and around Olympic village where my few remining UBC alumni friends now live. We spent a Sunday together touring the breweries, starting at the Big Rock Urban Brewery, winding up Ontario Road past Faculty, R&B and 33 Acres brewing companies, before ending at Brassneck and Main Street Breweries where I was politely cut-off by a power-tripping bartender. Instead we carried on to a concert in a second-hand clothing shop, and paid our way into a closed restaurant by buying cocktails from the bartender, and before I knew it, I was back on a plane to the bay area for some wine tasting.

Spring Skiing in BC

My favourite time to be in Vancouver is springtime. I was a little early for the cherry blossoms, but the first warm weekend and sunny skies did have a few trees blossoming early. It was my first trip to BC that I truly felt like a tourist – renting a car and booking hotels is something I´ve never done before.

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Gastown´s steam clock

Fewer and fewer people from my UBC days are left, and the city has transformed so much since the Olympics that I barely recognised parts of downtown. Robson street and Granville look like old-fashioned relics of the good old days, Gastown looks the same but feels completely different, and I don´t even remember what the new Olympic Village neighbourhood looked like before it was there.

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UBC alumni reunited in Olympic Village

Going to BC means the routine family check up. My grandma would be furious is I was around and didn´t visit. But visiting her always means a cloud of guilt, for not visiting earlier or more often, not staying long enough, and not eating enough. This time, I got in the most trouble for not calling ahead since she didn´t get a chance to cook up a storm and overfeed me the best Guyanese chicken curry you´ve ever had, but it wasn´t meal time and we had places to go.

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the Fraser River

I was with Master Chef Thrainn, on his first visit to BC, and I wanted to impress him with the wining and dining scene. It wasn´t all fancy – Tim Hortons and A&W are Canadian musts, and wine tasting in Langley and visiting a BC liquor store to see the Okanagan selection were part of our master plan. I saw my oldest friend from Canada, Lisa, who took us around the vineyards, and visited her younger brother, sous chef at Coquilles, in Gastown. We had to go to Cactus Club and Earls, the two Canadian chains I owe all my server training to, and the trip highlight was hands down Araxi in Whistler; the shucked right in front of you oysters, fresh sea food and local wine list impressed even Thrainn, who doesn´t normally like oysters.

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The Peak2Peak Gondola, taking us from Blackcomb to Whistler mountain

We spent four days in Whistler, with fresh snow on our first day and a couple days of powder, but most importantly, we had three days of sunshine on the slopes with a hottub to soothe our muscles every night. I had a friend in Whistler and a few in Vancouver to visit, and we tried some local brews at the Craft Beer Market.

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feeding the birds on 7th Heaven

We started our trip with the first night at Cultus, and woke up to a glorious morning on the lake. We ended our trip with an upgrade at the Shangri-la hotel, in Vancouver´s tallest building, but looking across at Trump tower made us prefer the view from our other hotel balcony peering down Thurlow street to the Olympic torch. Stanley Park was still as I remember, but the one morning of dismal rain we had on our trip ruined our plans to bike around it. At least I have that and a few more cherry blossoms to come back to, so its not goodbye yet…

Home for the Holidays

There’s no place like home, especially for the holidays, and even more so when you’ve got two places to call home. It sure was festive to be in the Holy land in the days leading up to Christmas, but arriving in Reykjavik on December 23rd to a white winter wonderland and -10°c couldn´t have felt better. The days were super short but the nights were lit up with Christmas lights, northern lights and starry skies. I stuffed my belly with traditional Icelandic Christmas food – my favourites being delicious smoked and boiled lamb leg and home-baked flat bread (´laufabrauð´ or leaf bread – try it!). Some other delicacies I avoided, like rotten sting ray (stay away from ´skata´), but of course i stuffed my face with Icelandic hot dogs, appelsin og malt (a mix of non-alcoholic malt and orange soda) and regular flatbread that´s best for breakfast with sliced lamb.

the brightest part of the day in Dad´s valley

the brightest part of the day in Dad´s valley

I flew to Seattle on Boxing day, where me and my best friend Mike celebrated by finishing half a dozen bottles of assorted whiskies in 2 nights. Then it was up to Vancouver to have a sister day and celebrating my older sister not getting married on December 29th (yes, it was a momentous occasion, the guy is a creep and doesn´t deserve even the small toe of Kristjana´s left foot). Grandma and mom have turned into very similar grumpy old women, but I guess it happens to most mothers when their kids don´t stick around to keep them young and cool or in the loop.

a friends dog at his cabin

a friends dog at his cabin

But anyway, this isn´t a food blog and my mouths watering, but I´ll emphasize again how refreshing, clean, crisp and amazing it was to have a really cold, wintery christmas, making the inside of any home or shop (and outdoor hottubs and public swimming pools too) feel ultra cozy and the festive feeling of evening last almost the whole day. I celebrated with Dad and his neighbour, where we mostly just exchanged chocolates as gifts, but I was thrilled to find some Christmas cards addressed to me in the mail box and small gifts from friends come popping up when they made appearances.

NYE crew keeping it cozy in Whistler

NYE crew keeping it cozy in Whistler

New Year´s was a real highlight, a reunion of UBC classmates in even snowier, cozier, whiter Whistler where we house partied like we were still freshmen. We lit firecrackers inside and outside of my friends cabin and drank way too many bad shots of bad tequila and gentleman´s jack, which makes a gentleman out of noone. My hangover lasted 2 days, which is a sign you´re getting old, but 3 days later I´m on a plane to the Caribbean to heal all wounds and work on my tan. A week of temperatures below zero is about all I can handle anyway.

A wedding in MSP and an engagement in YVR

I don’t know why, but it’s always more fun to book one way or multi-city flights than just a simple return ticket. Instead of making a trip to Minneapolis for a wedding and then another trip to Vancouver for an engagement party, it was better (and cheaper) to fly: Keflavik – MSP, MSP-Seattle (drive to Vancouver) YVR – Edmonton (5 hour lay over), and Edmonton back to Keflavik.

 

the newlyweds

 My favourite Canadian Clio lives in Minneapolis where she just finished her Phd in something smart and intelligent like clinical child psychology. She celebrated the best way I can think of – she got married to her beau at the same time! It was a small wedding in city hall, only 7 or 8 in attendance, and then 150 friends got together on the weekend for a reception party. My plus one was Ursula who I had just surprised 2 weeks before in DC for her birthday, and now she flew out to MSP to join in on the festivities. We couchsurfed with a swiss guy in his 1920’s house, and took one touristy day to go to a major league baseball game – the Minneapolis Twins against the Toronto Blue Jays. It was my first live game and Im still not sure how it works, but I think I cheered mostly for the Canadians.

 

first row at the ball game

 Then I was off to Seattle, where my photographer and arctic loving friend Mike lives. We went out to my favourite restaurant, the Spaghetti factory, and spent the night catching up. The next morning it was a short 2.5 hour drive to mom’s house in Chilliwack. There we feasted on home made curries and roti and bathed in the hottub and sunshine for a couple days. My older sister Kristjana held an engagement party for her and Michael, the fiance I hadn’t met until then. All our family met all of his and we ate some more homecooked food – I don’t realize how much I miss it til I have it again.

 

my sisters engagement cake

 The way home was Vancouver to Keflavik through Edmonton, a city I’ve never been to and only know a couple people. One of them is Caleb, a guy I lived with in student dorms in Montreal 6 years ago for french immersion. I introduced him to a girl back then who he dated ever since and now lives with, and we all met for an afternoon of brunching and beers on some patios. It was a warm and sunny day, with those fluffy white Simpsons clouds speckled through the sky, and I couldn’t belive how flat and wide the plains were. I guess it really is true that you could see your dog running away for days if he tried. 

the flat praries under some Simpsons clouds

Vancouver, as a tourist

Everytime I come back to Vancouver, after more and more time has passed since I lived there and called it home, I feel more and more like a visitor and less and less like a local. People even ask me where my accent is from, and I wonder if I should admit to being Canadian or just play the Iceland card. The friends I have (or had) become fewer and fewer as time goes by, as the UBC 2008 alumni have moved back home or onto other cities with bigger things. Visiting UBC campus is nostalgic in many ways, since the university is always a sacred memory of the happiest and hardest years of your adult-forming life. But then you feel like an outsider there, and atleast 10 years older than all the youthful faces who have replaced you and stolen the constantly under-construction campus to become their own happy place. There are new buildings and faculties and programs sprouting up year after year, and its always tempting to try and find one where I would still fit in.

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cherry blossom arches

Atleast Vancouver city doesnt change much, all the familiar streets, cafes, sushi restaurants, and shops that I crave when isolated in tiny Reykjavik. There are still a few new buildings and unfamiliar store fronts, but not enough to know for sure that they’re new to everyone or just new to me who had never noticed them before. I stayed at the Pan Pacific hotel, which has a huge, new Cactus Club restaurant right on the water beside it. I had to go there to see what it was like and pay my dues, since I have Cactus Club to thank for my first waitressing job, and the main supplier of my travel income for 2007-2008.

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bear crossing!

April is the most beautiful time to visit Vancouver, since the trees start blossoming, all at slightly different intervals, so that you can always find a street corner or park covered in various shades of pink and white petals. There are cherry, plum, crab apple and even Magnolia trees that colour every spring pink, and Vancouverites celebrate them with an annual Cherry Blossom Festival. But the best thing about a flowery spring in Vancouver is that its still a snowy time in the mountains, and spring skiing in Whistler and Vancouver mountains stays open as late as May 1. I didn’t make it snowboarding, but I spent enough time in the outskirts of Vancouver to throw myself into an icy lake (felt like home, Iceland-home that is), and see a family of black bears dizzily crawling out of hibernation.

Vancouver is nestled between the Pacific ocean and its many islands to the west, a towering mountain range and ever-green forests to the north, the lush countryside of the Fraser Valley to the east, and of course the American border only a few km’s south. This kind of location can’t be beat by any other American city, but the damn rain always turns out to be a major party-pooper. If it wasn’t for the gray, rainy weather, which i basically a 7-8 month long season, Vancouver would truly be the most livable city in the world.