Friday, 25 March 2016

The Big Adventure – part 7: Finally, Vancouver

Blog 13

Our first morning in Vancouver started with rain, but it did not take long for the sun to come out. The city reminded me a little bit of Hamburg with all the ships but with a milder climate. The smell of the sea, the sea gulls and crows looking for mussels (and unfortunately garbage) reminded me of the island Sylt in the North Sea. However, all around I could see the mountains with snow covered peaks. Everything was in full bloom. I discovered many flowers I knew from Germany, even a bleeding heart.

Our first destination was Stanley Park. We saw many totem poles during our stroll, which had not caught my interest before. However, they are amazing examples of wood craft. Each totem pole contains symbols which tell a story.

We immediately discovered that people were a lot more active in Vancouver. We saw lots and lots of people on bicycles and roller blades.

The vegetation of the park was just breathtaking. The light's rays made their way through the trees, which were taller, and bigger than any I had ever seen. The patterns of light and shadow on the huge variety of plants, paths, and the water of Beaver Lake are indescribably beautiful. Everything was in full bloom, and it was fascinating to see the different areas of the park: some were carefully maintained, while in others you felt like in the wild.

At one visit of the Beaver Lake, I decided to paint. After a period of four years without practicing my skills, I had a hard time capturing the scene. It was frustrating.

The Cheeky Squirrel , acrylic, 8" x 10"
We saw lots of squirrels that were so tame that they came up to us and seemed rather confused when I backed away. We also saw raccoons posing for photographers.

When we went to the historic part of the city, we saw the famous Gastown steam clock that blows off steam every 15 minutes while chiming.

All this beauty was, however, still not enough to help me get over my homesickness. I had never been far away from home for a long time, and I missed my family terribly. The nine hour time difference and the difficulty to find a pay phone made it hard to stay in contact. This was a touchy subject between Ingo and I. Ingo was used to being away from his family and had a hard time understanding my feelings. He grew up in a family that had moved often, first within Europe and then finally to Canada. Being away from grandparents and even parents had been a normal part of his life.

I hated the thought of being away from my family and friends, and was afraid that I would become dependent on Ingo if we stayed in Canada. I did not want to end up as a housewife whose life's purpose was cleaning the house and looking after the kids. I was looking for the challenge of a career.

I was sure, I wanted to return to Germany after the half year off. Nevertheless, I encouraged Ingo to apply for jobs. With the perspective of the release of Hong Kong of the control of the British Empire in 1997, Vancouver's industry hoped for a big economic boom. We already noticed that some of the Vancouver areas felt like parts of China where everything was written in Chinese instead of English. This made me feel even more uncomfortable as I had enough problems to get around with my English.

I also had a hard time in the restaurants. I was annoyed that the restaurants did not offer carbonated water, my staple drink during those days. I missed my rolls with delicious cheese. Instead breakfast was usually eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns and toast which was fine once in awhile but not on a daily basis.

Twenty years later, I have adjusted to the Canadian breakfast. I am still not a fan of hash browns and sausage for breakfast, but bacon and eggs or even better pancakes with apple sauce are a breakfast highlight - but then we only have it once a month or while on vacation at the cottage.

My main beverage of choice is now green tea. When I lived in Germany, I never drank any warm beverages but once I experienced my first Canadian winter, I needed something warm to take away the chill. I have even switched from carbonated to tap water mixed with a little bit of juice, and find carbonated water now too frizzy.

With regard to dinner, we cook a mixture of Italian, Greek, and Asian dishes but hardly any traditional German meals. We are still not big meat eaters, so you won't be served a steak in our house.

Thank you for following my blog. Please forward a link to your friends and family if you think they might be interested in my stories. Thank you in advance for helping me to increase my audience.

Friday, 18 March 2016

The Big Adventure – part 6: From Kamloops to Vancouver

Blog 12

The Big Adventure – part 6

Before we started our last leg of our trip to Vancouver, we spent one night in Kamloops. We reached Kamloops in the late afternoon, and decided to stay as Vancouver was at least another five hours away.

We stayed at the “Kings Motor Inn”, where flowers decorated the whole inner courtyard. It was beautiful! The warm sunshine invited us to go for a walk through the picturesque Riverside Park, which is located on the banks of the Thompson River and even has a beach. One of the sights in the park was a steam locomotive from the beginning of the 19th century. Unfortunately, we could not see it from close up because it was hidden behind a fence for renovation.

At night, we were pondering the question where to eat. We did not want to go to another McDonald's, but going to a regular restaurant meant an addition of at least 10% to the bill for tip. That's a lot of extra money when you are on a tight budget. At the end, we went to a small Mexican restaurant called “Señor Froggy” where the food was delicious.

The next morning, we started for our eighth and last leg of our trip in terrific weather. We enjoyed an outdoor breakfast (again at Mc Donald's). This was a nice bonus as eating outside did not seem to be very common in Canada at that time.

On our way to Cache Creek the landscape changed again. Everything was in full bloom and the leaves were already fully mature. However, the pastures on the hills were a rather muted green, and the rocks in between gray and brilliant red brown. At Kamloops Lake, the brown rocks are mirrored in the water. The water surface looks like really bronze coloured. Just beautiful! I could not resist to paint the sight. Ingo was quite patient at first, but once I had the composition down, he wanted to get going. Unfortunately, I have no idea whether I ever finished it and what happened to the painting.

Cache Creek's history was influenced by the miners and fur traders. Some say the town got its name from the fur traders who stored their supplies in the valley. Today, a statue of a miner is still greeting visitors to the town.

During the drive we saw many natural wonders like the raging Fraser River, whose brown water cut its way through the landscape. On the other side are the huge rolling hills. Highway 99 is winding its way through the mountains – almost like in the Alps.

At Marble Canyon, we saw a lake with water in the shades of emerald green to turquoise. It was hard to break away from this spot because I could not get enough of the view.

Continuing our way, we saw remote settlements with derelict houses that made us wonder how these people lived. Most of the inhabitants seemed to be First Nations members. I was not surprised because I assumed that only people who were used to the isolation, and had a close relationship with nature would have the skills to survive in this beautiful, but undeveloped area. We saw many young men fishing. However, even in these settlements the satellite dishes gave testimony that consumerism could not be stopped.

I found it fascinating how people seemed to “dispose” of their cars. I saw this a couple of times, even in other provinces. The vehicles are used, left behind, and start rotting slowly. I even saw one property where one car after the other stood in the backyard – a real car cemetery.

Passing Garibaldi Provincial Park, we traveled through Whistler, a famous winter sport destination with high living costs, to the spectacular Brandywine Falls. We continued through Squamish along the Horseshoe Bay to Vancouver. The beautiful city, which is surrounded by the sea and mountains, was covered in a floral splendour. I recognized many of the flowers which also grow in Germany. Ingo was totally thrilled.

I had a hard time to take all this in. I felt very homesick. I had only talked shortly to my mother on Mother's Day because the phone rates were quite high in those days. I felt excluded from my parents' lives, which made me very sad. I could hardly wait until the following day when I would call again. We just had to find a phone booth, because dialing through the hotel operator had cost about $13 for less than three minutes in the last hotel.

We were happy when we found a small motor inn where the price was less than $60/night. It was very sparsely furnished but we had our own bathroom and TV. We did not need much comfort because we were there to explore the city.

Vancouver, the dream city? Vancouver is consistently ranked high on the most liveable cities in the world. It had been Ingo's dream to live and work in Vancouver. Next week, I will let you know how we experienced the city which is famous for its natural beauty, the easy access to beaches, parks and mountains as well as the mild climate.

Do you have a favourite city? Do you live in it right now?

Thank you for following my blog. Please forward a link to your friends and family if you think they might be interested in my stories. Thank you in advance for helping me to increase my audience.

Friday, 11 March 2016

The Big Adventure – part 5: From Jasper to Valemount

Blog 11

When we left Edmonton it was raining, but just as we reached Jasper National Park the rain had stopped. Our first stop was the Punchbowl Falls, where the Mountain Creek cascades down a cliff, and has eroded a narrow channel in the rock and finally drops into couple of natural pools. Even though I was curious to see the cascades, I was afraid to meet a bear after I had read a newspaper article about a grizzly bear attacking two hikers. At the same time, I would have liked to see a bear from the security of a car. I love bears and had been very active making teddy bears at the time. It would have been so great to see one in person.

Afterwards, we went to the Miette Hot Springs, the hottest springs of the Rocky Mountains. The water flows from the mountain at 54°C and smells strongly because of the high amount of sulphates in the water. We could even see how yellow the rocks were from where the water cascaded down. The water is then cooled down to 40°C for the hot spring pools.

As it was starting to get dark, we continued on the indescribably beautiful road to Jasper. All around we saw the huge Rocky Mountains, which were partially covered by snow. There were many lakes and creeks, and lots of moose and deer. Magical!

Looking for accommodation was not an easy task in Jasper as it was dark, and Jasper is a rather expensive place. I was not too impressed with the inn because we did not have our own bathroom. As someone who had never been camping and was not used to more rustic accommodations, I was not too thrilled about it. However, after a good night's sleep I had to admit that everything was spotless and furnished with love, even if a little bit old-fashioned. There was a big comfy bed, a sink with gold fixtures, green wallpaper, a rose coloured carpet, and a TV. Even the towels and a flower print were colour-matched. Then there was the view of the mountains… Just amazing!

 In no time we reached Mount Robson Provincial Park. The landscape was still beautiful but we did not see any more animals. We had finally reached British Columbia and crossed the last time zone.

The landscape got greener and greener once we left the park. The further we went southwest, the more signs of spring we saw: blooming bushes in violet, fields full of yellow flowers, and lots of young animals which grazed with their mothers on fresh green pastures. In the shelter of the mountains the climate seemed to be relatively mild, and everything looked so peaceful. A wonderful place for a vacation!

detail from my oil painting "I Can Smell The Lilac"

In Valemount, we stopped for groceries. The first store we entered was a bakery. I could not believe they dared to call it a bakery. There were not even fresh rolls for sale, let alone any pastries. For someone who comes from Germany, the "bread country", where bread is part of the culture, I could hardly believe that people would eat these squishy white Canadian breads. Germany produces more varieties of breads than any other country with over 300 varieties of dark and white breads and over 1,200 varieties of rolls. Bread is an important part of the daily diet. Many Germans enjoy rolls and slices of bread for breakfast and dinner with cold cuts, and cheese. Honey, and jams or often added as a spread for breakfast. Even today, after more than 20 years, I have not adjusted to the texture of soft breads and rolls. I am glad for the increased varieties of heartier breads which have become available within the last couple of years, even though my husband bakes most of our bread. I have to admit, that every time I go to Germany, going to the bakeries is still one of the highlights of my visit.

Is there anything you miss from the country or region you originated from? Do you hold on to traditional recipes or have you changed the way you eat according to what is offered as convenience and comfort foods?

Friday, 4 March 2016

The Big Adventure – part 4: from Quill Lake to Edmonton

Blog 10

This week, I write about our trip from Quill Lake to Edmonton as part of our big adventure to get from Mississauga to Vancouver.

Our first stop around midday was Saskatoon where we walked a little bit through the city. In Battleford we wanted to visit the Western Development Museum which contained a reconstruction of a 1925 Saskatchewan town. Disappointingly, the museum was closed.

In Lloydminster which belongs to about 40% to Saskatchewan and to 60% to Alberta, we visit another of the many McDonald's. So far we had at least one meal at a McDonald's at any of the provinces we crossed. Interestingly, the prices for the menu items differed depending on the location. This less than healthy diet was probably one of the reasons why I had lots of stomach problems during our trip. These days, I cannot believe how we managed to eat that often at fast food restaurants. My constant stomach problems during the trip were probably due to all this unhealthy food.

When we arrived in Vengreville, we visited the biggest Easter egg of the world at Elk Park. This egg called Pysanka in Ukrainian, was installed in memory of the Ukrainian settlers and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who protected them. The designs on the egg symbolize wealth, a good harvest, and security.

The landscape had changed. Everything was very green. Most of the trees already had green leaves – quite the difference to the winter landscapes of the day before. Without the wind, we could have worn shorts and T-shirts. Something the locals did. This must be a Canadian phenomenon which I have since witnessed in different Canadian areas: The moment the sun warms the air enough for temperatures to rise above 10 degrees, many Canadians put on shorts, T-shirts and sandals or flip-flops. Considering that the winter temperatures fall below – 20 degrees, these temperatures are almost balmy.

Another sign of spring are the young animals, especially calves, lambs, and foals. Very sweet! This was the first day, we saw a lot of animals. Just before Edmonton, I saw a herd of cattle. At least that is what I as a city dweller thought. In reality, it was a herd of bisons. I had never seen a bison before, and Ingo was as excited because he had never seen one in the wild before. It was impressive to see the big herd of these big animals just meters away from us. We were only separated by a fence.

When we finally arrived in Edmonton, we were too exhausted to visit the city. However, we had a fantastic view from our hotel room which was so big I could easily do some exercises, which felt really good after sitting day after day in the car.

 The next day, we went to the West Edmonton Mall, which was still the biggest mall in the world at this time. Aside from the hundreds of stores, there was a lake, which was big enough so that people could dive in it, and contained a big ship and submarines as well as a aquarium for dolphins. This was unbelievable. However, everything was closed. How frustrating! Luckily, we found out that the mall would open at noon on a Sunday. To pass the time, we went to the Muttart Conservatory. It had four glass pyramids house the botanical garden, each pyramid with plants of different climate zones. I was fascinated by the mighty cacti.

Back at the mall, the shops pull of all the stores was immense. We limited our sales to a pair of hiking boots for Ingo, sunglasses, and an Alaska bear, a polar bear in a leather parka and boots with a fur trim. As a teddy bear collector, I could not resist even though I was heavily involved at making teddy bears.

The number of offered goods was overwhelming. While it seems a buyer's paradise, I found it all too much, especially if you do not have any money to buy things.

When we left the mall again, it had started raining. Our next destination was Jasper.

Thank you for following my travelogue. Please share it with friends and family who might be interested in my story. I invite you to return next week for the continuation of the trip.